Sunday, 22 December 2013

Unto us a boy is born.....

My brother entered the world on the shortest day, whilst we, his sisters, sang carols in the old Norman church to mark the end of the school term. My father, unused to the demands of small girls; made porridge with too much salt then, with relief etched on his face, surrendered the plaiting of our hair to the nurse who had come to help whilst my mother was in hospital.

It was an exciting time; the unfamiliar delight of a new male child , and the novelty of a father home for Christmas; mixed with the anticipation of socks stuffed with goodies from Father Christmas and presents piled high in the wicker laundry basket.

When mum came home we knew how much we had missed her steady presence, and with promises not to tire her out, all trouped up stairs to the bedroom to re confirm her love for us; and become enraptured with the brother we had all hoped for.
As the youngest, I felt my place somewhat usurped by this small red faced being, and although fiercely proud of my new baby brother, resented the fact I was the baby no more, so acted accordingly; becoming needy and whiny to the exasperation of all.

With a birthday so close to Christmas, my mother always ensured there was a distinct separation between the two celebrations. No amount of cajoling would move her to decorate for Christmas before we had properly celebrated my brother's birth.
 We were the only household I remember who held off decorating until Christmas Eve. Whilst lights twinkled on trees in the windows of many a house, ours remained quite bare; then on Christmas Eve to the radio playing Carols from Kings College, or some such, we would all be assigned jobs.
The house was cleaned from top to bottom, and the Christmas tree brought in from outside to be hung with the red silk baubles from the Far East, and delicate glass decorations which shattered into sharp shards if they slipped from fumbling fingers. Holly, gathered in the forest on those long frosty walks with the dog, alongside evergreen branches,garnished the wooden curtain pelmets; whilst the house filled with the scent of pine and oven baked mince pies. The table and silverware were polished, red or gold candles placed in every candle holder, and finally the Nativity figures set up on the hall table to greet visitors as they entered.

 As small children, we would then wrap up and walk to church to attend Nine Lessons and Carols; the liturgy and rituals of which became so ingrained in my consciousness that I can still recite them to this day. When we grew older we stayed up late, meeting up with family and friends to go to Midnight Mass.
The heavy, still and timeless atmosphere of the church; where ancient words seeped to the very heart of Norman stones as the flicker of candlelight played across the walls; never failed to bring home the true meaning of Christmas.

Even now, I find in decorating the house, faint echoes of the rituals we had as children. The tree is not put up until school has finished for the term, and I listen to carols as we hang the ornaments we have collected over the years.
 We still demarcate Christmas and birthday,but this time it is the birthday of my husband at the beginning of January; so New Year's Eve finds us talking down cards and tree, leaving simple lights to radiate Christmas warmth and brighten the way for a birthday to come.

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