I hope that you have all had/are having a wonderful Midwinter/Christmas?
This Advent got off to a cracking and early start with my trip to Germany and the amazing Christmas markets – not to mention lots of time spent with Holger’s family. I have also been invited to more Christmas parties and gatherings than ever before. It saddens me a little that everyone celebrates Christmas in Advent and then, after we get to Christmas Day, there is nothing left to do. All the lovely carols and Christmas music played on Classic FM radio stops abruptly after Boxing Day and people start to talk about taking down their decorations. Some of our decorations were only put up in the last days before the Solstice. Perhaps it is because many put their decorations up so early – end of November and early December? That is what I mean about people celebrating Advent rather than Christmas.
Despite my great love of Christmas, this was actually the first time I have seen a Christmas tree lit with real candles – and I have to say that it was utterly enchanting! Holger and I attended a seasonal gathering for all employees and their families where he works at Trigonos and one of the directors had supplied her own living tree, with presents waiting beneath it for all the children. In true traditional custom, there was delicious food to eat, games to play which generated much laughter and good-natured silliness, and story-telling to quieten us down again. Then, in time honoured fashion, just before everyone went home, the lights were dimmed, everyone came to sit expectantly around the tree and the children were allowed to come, one by one, to light a candle each upon the living tree. It was magical and the children’s faces were a real picture… as I expect mine was too!
So far, I have to say that this Midwinter and Christmas has been as near perfect as is possible… and a very welcome break from the outside world into the bargain. With my last blog/Facebook post wishing everyone a happy Christmas, I stepped back from my computer and slipped into the wholehearted loving embrace of my immediate family.
We had some of our friends from the druid grove here for the Solstice on the 22nd and walked up the valley into the woods which have grown up around the old quarry and gathered among the trees there. As the daylight faded, we lit a small fire and held sparklers in our hands, sharing chocolate Yule log cake and beakers of hot, mulled wine. There is always something particularly special about this one time of late afternoon and dusk. There is something particularly magical about being present in the silent woods as the daylight fades and we find our way home in near darkness, singing and laughing, slipping and sloshing through mud and puddles as we approach the welcome lights of the village. this year, two owls accompanied our festivities with their haunting cries from one side of the valley to the other. Well, we are the Cylch Blodeuwedd after all!
Just two days later, on Christmas Eve, we gathered around the dining room hearth to share a German afternoon tea with sugary stollen and fragrant spice cakes and chocolate treats of every kind – the fire blazed and the thirty or so candles in the pyramids, flying buttresses and holders cast shadows from all the decorations. We had just paused in our carol singing and were pouring cups of tea while Dafydd was roasting chestnuts on the fire, when a new neighbour dropped in with a card and gift and I suddenly saw us as we must have appeared to him… almost a scene from Victorian days or a Dickens novel, ha! ha!
This year, more than ever, I have really tried to follow my own growing beliefs about the preparation for Midwinter and Christmas celebration, although seem to have had even less time in which to do so. I made my own crackers for the Christmas lunch table (in which I placed sweeties and questions to ask one another around the dinner table rather than silly gifts which no one wants). I have made some ‘fortune crackers’ for our New Year’s dinner table too, in which I have written ‘words of wisdom’ for 2020 and jokes to give us all a laugh and start us off on a jolly note! I made some of my own gifts too – hideously late finishing them and the evening of the 23rd saw me sat with my sewing basket expeditiously stitching away.
I didn’t get everything made that I would have liked to, but at least I completed everything that I had started and everyone received something from me. We also tried out having a ‘pledge box’ for the first time ever and ended up opening it as a completely separate activity on Boxing Day (26th December) while we were having afternoon tea. Some very interesting and worthwhile pledges came out of that little box which was decorated and left in a prominent place in the hall a few days before the Solstice. It also struck me as so appropriate to open a pledge box on Boxing Day, when the apprentices and poor of the parish used to be given tips or alms for the year in boxes which had to be broken open.
As a family, we celebrate most of the twelve days of Christmas, which only come to an end with Epiphany on the 5th January. We actually only had our official Christmas Dinner on the 27th December, when close family and friends could join us and we could all celebrate together. I actually opted for the longer version of the meal this year, although as I juggled seven pans across the top of my aga and four roasting tins inside the ovens, I began to seriously wonder if I had finally bitten off more than I could sensibly chew! We began with chicken liver pate (with an avocado pate option for the vegetarians among us), followed by squash, coconut and ginger soup. The main course was roast turkey, sausages and chicken rolls with sage and onion stuffing, bread sauce and red currant jelly with all the vegetables and two kinds of gravy – vegetarian and non-vegetarian. The vegetarian main was a selection of winter vegetables from the garden, roasted and then folded with cheese into a wreath shape made from triangles of croissant dough, which is the lightest and butteryest dough imaginable! There was Christmas pudding to follow, served
with sweet white sauce and dollops of rum butter. Dafydd ‘fired’ the pudding with ethanol from his herbal dispensary… pretty blue flames licked around the dark fruity globe upon the china platter until the tall sprig of holly stuck in the top also caught fire and everything then had to be quickly extinguished! A cheese board, mince pies, fruit, candied fruits and chocolates followed along with a tray of coffee, but these we took with us into the drawing room and gradually picked away at as we opened even more gifts from beneath our Winter Tree… in fact, we were still grazing among the remnants of our ‘Lunch’ at eight o’clock that evening!
This past few days, the games cupboard has also been raided and Holger and I have challenged each other to some games of draughts which I used to play with my father when I was a child but haven’t played for well over fifty years. I no longer had my original board and set so earlier this year I ordered a new one over the Internet – the toy shop in Caernarfon could only supply me with cardboard and plastic – so I found a lovely wooden board which folds into a box in which to keep the wooden draughts, chess and backgammon pieces. Needless to say, Holger won most of the games! Holger and I went to the cinema one evening to see the new Star Wars film, ‘The Rise of Skywalker’, which I thoroughly enjoyed but found FAR too loud and had to watch some battle scenes with my finger stuffed in my ears!!!
And no, life isn’t quite so perfect… we found that mice had found their way up the wisteria into our loft and chewed a few of our seasonal decorations – the tallest section of wisteria was immediately removed! And our oldest feline member of the family (just turned twenty!) chose this Midwinter to make her journey and pass over into the Summerlands. But these are all a part of on-going life too…
Now it is New Year’s Eve. We might have a small bonfire out in the garden this evening to celebrate, weather depending. Wherever you are and however you might be celebrating this incoming new decade, I hope that you are well, comfortable and at peace with yourself and the world around you.
A very happy New Year to you all… as always, with my love.