When I was small (that is, small-er) my brother and I would become very excited on the first of December. We were never spoiled with lavish gifts at Christmas, but we always rushed downstairs in the dark on Christmas morning expecting something special to be under the tree, and we were never disappointed. I’m not quite as enthusiastic these days. I usually slither out of bed grumbling about all the cooking I have to do, and brew coffee before I open gaily-wrapped parcels of the inevitable: scarf/night-shirt/bed-socks/’phone cover/soap/self-help book I will never read…all the favourites.
Twenty-four days is just over three weeks. Three weeks ‘til Christmas. It was July a minute ago, and we were basking beside the village pool with cold beers in hand. Where did five months go? The sunny terrace we hosted summer barbis on back in those salad days is now strewn with wet leaves from our naked walnut tree, and all the furniture is tucked under the pergola out of the rain. The roses that scented the summer air are leggy, their leaves yellowing, begging to be pruned back. Pot plants that bloomed in the sunshine are tucked away in sheltered places. Dampness has crept in everywhere, my knees creak, and I still haven’t got around to putting the plastic cover over the polytunnel frame. I have had a perpetual head-cold for over a week, so I’m under par, and I’m behind with quite a few jobs. Bah-Humbug!
I adore Christmas, but I am not as excited about it as I would normally be this close to the Big Day, ‘though I did manage to locate and erect one small tree; it’s on the hatstand in the hallway between the kitchen and sitting-room. Allegedly, I am getting all the decos out before the weekend, and putting up the main tree and the belen.
Ah, the belen. The focus of that Silent, Holy Night. The parish church didn’t have one last year, due to Covid. We are assured that this year’s will be spectacular as always. I love to stand before it and imagine myself in Bethlehem. The location of our own little belen will have to be carefully reconsidered; last year Raphael snatched a shepherd and ran away with him, so keeping the Holy Family, Magi, and attendant pastoral folk safe from our naughty, mis-named, chihuahua is a priority. My little Bethlehem scene will have to sit somewhere out of his reach. Easier said than done, the little b***ard climbs like a goat. And there’s the cat…she’s sixteen, a bit dotty, and she spends most of her day asleep in various unusual and unexpected spots. But at Christmas she perks up of an evening, energized and keen to destroy decorations. She likes to insinuate herself into the stable, disguised as a gigantic striped sheep. Gold, frankincese and purr, for the Little Lord Jesus?
My annual Christmas Hamper collection is underway for the fourth year, with pledges of lovely food and gifts for our less fortunate neighbours pouring in already. Through the many challenges our circle of friends has faced this year, most have found it within themselves to think of others, and I find that very heartening. It’s our way of saying thanks to the locals for having us. Living here on the Sacred Shore is not something any of us takes for granted. Our social-worker friend makes sure that those most in need receive a hamper. She and her team deliver them the week before Christmas,so that people have some treats, and a little gift to celebrate the season with.
Twenty-four days ‘til Christmas. I hope that each of those days brings us closer to the earthly, and the eternal, peace promised us. I hope that twenty-four days from now we will all be smiling around laden tables, with people we love beside us wearing silly paper hats, fires burning brightly, crackers cracking, wine flowing. I hope. I dare to hope. Because Christmas is all about hope, and if we do not permit ourselves the luxury of hope, then the Grinches will have stolen Christmas from our hearts.