A house in a nearby street has its Christmas decorations primed for an annual reappearance all year. Yesterday, Santa’s boots were lit up anew to swing until February, when the switch will be dimmed.
Maybe because of the winter season, Christmas feels magical in Britain. It took time, but I’ve developed my own seasonal traditions. I’m not from a family that has ‘traditions’; we muddle through. Too many years of reading assured magazines and working with confident, permanently middle-aged teaching colleagues had me feeling a bit lost about seasonal practices.
However, now, with a home and (small) family of my own, we fall into a few happy Christmas customs.
1. We view the Christmas shop windows in central London (saving Liberty till last).
2.We light the Advent candle on December 1st and watch it ceremonially burn a little every night to Christmas Eve- (actually, we usually forget for several days, recall, light it, forget again, and burn it to a fireman’s fury stump.) There are many candles. From the desperate Advent candle, to tea lights, to scented pine candles, to those made by a clever candle-making friend, our Christmas room would entice any reindeer.
3. We take a tour around suburban London and its outer limits in the hope of catching a would-be ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation‘ lighting job.
4. We enjoy at least one show; this year we’ve ‘Pinocchio‘ at the National Theatre.
5. We will attend a carol service or two. Christmas days call for emotional singing along to John Rutter’s Christmas songs.
6. We create a Christmas tableau in our bay window that includes some treasured Kelly Hoppen silver baubles I bought in Fulham, years before Mr Bookwagon appeared.
7. Around the house hang Christmas stockings. These include the first, a hand-stitched gift for Mr Bookwagon. He was working as an environmental health policy officer, at that point. While I swear the theme I sewed was ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ with a dangling mouse, unfortunately, Mr BW was convinced there was a rat (rodent) reference to my handiwork. Each year, it elicits chortles of derision and mockery. On Christmas morning, Mr Bookwagon will entertain me by galumphing through the house in an attempt to find items to fill my stocking because he’s forgotten, again.
8. We buy our Christmas tree from a different source each year. Last year there was a delay in bringing the selected tree home, after two cranky cars had a head-on carpark collision. Dressing the tree involves colour themes. Last year’s was white and gold. We have decorations from twelve Christmases together, and those from our previous lives. However, I suspect Mr Bookwagon sat in his socks during Christmas days past, before I enlightened him. We add a new decoration to our haul every year.
10. There will be a Christmas turkey Mr Bookwagon ordered some weeks ago, that will necessitate an eleventh hour collection in a cursing queue. I will attempt some disappointing vegetarian recipe.
11. After sharing our feast, we will share gifts with Granny Bookwagon. Her departure will coincide with Her Majesty’s speech. When Mr Bookwagon returns from this taxi duty, we will open gifts to and from each other. Then, we settle into Christmas day for a little while.
12. We may have an early evening Christmas walk followed by cheese and crackers. We will be thinking about our television or movie watching. Mr Bookwagon will plump for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘ again; we’ll agree on ‘Some Like it Hot.’
I will be yearning for ‘home’. The day will have been wonderful and fulfilling, but nagging in my head and tugging at my heart, will be those far away. Those at ‘home’ are especially longed for on Christmas Day. Sharing the gifts and experiences of godchildren and family and friends matters so much. I will recall the ‘muddling through’ of New Zealand Christmases past, and especially my Christmas birthday angel mother, who is missed every day.
Christmas has always served to remind me of my good fortune. Despite homesickness I know I have a secure and loving place. There are so many who are not so blessed.
One of our favourite experiences of 2017 occurred recently, when we set up a Bookwagon stall at St Elizabeth’s in Hertfordshire. St Elizabeth’s is a school, residence and centre for people with epilepsy and other complex needs. The fair was a joy. We sold books, connected with other stall holders, but more importantly, experienced and participated in something so joyful and real, that we came away aglow. St Elizabeth’s Christmas Bazaar. Those working and learning in that environment demonstrate Christmas, in their warmth, sharing and community.
Books remind us of the full capacity of ourselves and others. For both of us, the giving of books at Christmas was a seasonal tradition throughout our lives that we have continued. Each of us recall books we have been given. Most often they are ‘forever‘ books, books we love and share and keep. Many of mine have travelled over oceans, through the years.
Proudly, we have a good share, despite our business youth, of ‘forever‘ books in the Bookwagon shelves. This week I added another, Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales, one of the best interpretations of this genre I have seen. I’m delighted by the range of our sophisticated picture books, that delight all ages, like Harry Miller’s Run and the award-winning The Wolf The Duck & The Mouse. Books that make me warm and tingly, like La La La and How the Sun Got to Coco’s House and titles that make me know more about the world, like Do You Speak Chocolate?, Kick and The Snow Angel are ‘forever‘ books. We have isolated a wonderful selection in our seasonal titles category. We are so happy to offer all our titles without free delivery during this period.
Whatever your traditions, wherever you are up to in this madcap, light-magic season, I hope it is happy and fulfilling. I hope it includes books, quality, forever children’s books, too.