Yesterday I ventured out into Retail Land and did my big grocery shop for the Midwinter period. I try to be as organised as possible – write out a schedule of special days for which I want/need to specially cater, decide on menus and write a shopping list accordingly. Most of my purchases are ingredients with which to bake or cook things, so I have quite a task ahead of me in the kitchen! But it is of my choosing and I feel that it is important to remember this.
Wandering around the shops in the centre of town and the supermarkets always has an odd effect on me – I often become very tired and a little depressed. there is just so much and all my senses go into overload. Yes, there are some lovely luxuries and tempting treats but if we all spent a million pounds we still wouldn’t be able to achieve the occasion which so many of us seek.
This is because some of the vital ingredients which go to make up the perfect Midwinter/Christmas celebration are simply not for sale. What really makes a special time are the instances when people come together in common understanding and love… when someone shows compassion or empathy… when a person suddenly volunteers to help or to do… when a habitually grumpy person suddenly cracks a joke and changes the whole atmosphere… when one or more people rally round and jointly make something good. In other words, when humanity shows love and care it creates a magic which nothing else can rival or achieve.
Astonishingly, this magical element is more often found in the most mundane of situations. It is in all the thought and planning and effort… the tidying of cupboards to contain all the extra provisions… the cleaning of the house to ensure that all who enter there at Midwinter are as comfortable and cosy as possible…the extra and unexpected card hastily scribbled… the effort to get all the boxes of decorations out of the garage or down from the loft… the peeling, chopping, whipping and kneading that goes into producing even the simplest dishes… the steadying hand on the shoulder… the wordless hug… the smile which needs no explanation… the unsolicited cup of tea… these are just a few of the tiny ‘magics’ which go to make up the magnificent whole!
In other words, it does not matter a jot what we do, buy, make or have – it is the spirit in which we live our days… each hour… each moment, which makes all the difference and which will ultimately make a wonderful and memorable occasion. It will be the people, the laughter – even the disasters, later chuckled over – which will be remembered long after the wonderful (or unwanted) gifts, the table settings and the decorations have been forgotten. Done with the right approach and in the right spirit of loving and giving, a single candle on a table set with a paper napkin and a sprig of holly… with sausage and mash to eat and little promises of loving or caring actions written on slips of paper instead of lavish gifts can mean far, far more.
However you are spending this time of preparation – of Advent – and whatever you achieve once the time to celebrate actually arrives, make the very most of it. It is actually easier to get the most out of a few dishes, gifts, activities… to thoroughly appreciate and enjoy a single glass of wine rather than half a bottle… truly taste a couple of rich chocolates as you slowly consume them rather than guzzling down the whole box and then finding that you haven’t really tasted or even registered eating any of them. In over-abundance, so much can become obscured and lost.
Back to the two dreaded ‘c’ words – consumerism and commercialisation – try not to become distracted from the true relevance of what it is you wish to achieve. There are many occasions when the spectacular displays of the commercial world can be both enjoyable and inspiring (as in my recent visits to the German Christmas markets) so, go ahead, feast your eyes, and your other senses too – settle for one or two little treats which you can enjoy there and then or which will lift your special gathering when it arrives.
Remember not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Millions of people earn their livelihood from making and/or selling something, or supporting those who do. Just don’t allow it to get out of hand and, wherever possible, buy from local producers which then directly feeds money back into your local economy and supports your local community.
Lastly, don’t forget to have fun! Whatever you are planning for this weekend, stop, take a deep breath, give a smile, and remember to enjoy it!
These wonderful stars really show up well in the dark of a winter’s night!