Today, Midwinter has definitely been in the air – quite literally… it was hailing at lunchtime. Today has felt incredibly ‘Christmassy’. Today, I made my Christmas cakes!
While the mountains disappeared beneath blankets of cloud, rain pelted down, and windows steamed up, it grew steadily darker as the afternoon advanced and I had to switch the main room lights on. However, my kitchen grew increasingly fragrant with spices… rich mounds of sticky dried fruit appeared on my work surfaces… glowing glacé cherries were heaped waiting to be sliced in half… brown piles of nuts were ready to be chopped or ground, plates of golden butter and sweet, soft, dark brown sugar gleamed, the tang of grated lemon peel filled the air. Christmas carols played and the rooms became cosier and more inviting by the hour.
We were all busy today. My husband was sweeping both our chimneys – although with wood-burning stoves there is very little residue to clean away. My son was bustling about the house, too, and our friend (who sometimes does building repairs and jobs for us on the house) also called in, as did our next door neighbour. The kettle was set on the Aga to boil, (frequently), and the freshly baked lemon drizzle cake I had made this morning was generously cut into. There was a tangible buzz, a feeling of expectancy – almost of excitement – in the air. Anyone who passed through the kitchen at the critical moment was offered a chance to stir the huge metal bowl of cake mixture and make a wish…
I have thoroughly enjoyed today. Yes, it is quite hard work, but I wouldn’t miss the seasonal ambience, the sights, scents and sounds of this traditional winter alchemy which takes place every year in my kitchen around this time. In the past, I have suffered from long-term chronic illness, and just this autumn I am facing the challenge of cancer, so I do know what it is like to not have the strength or energy to do this type if activity. But even so, I still find simply going out and purchasing a cake from a supermarket shelf an empty, boring activity, with little to interest me and resulting in no sense of pride, satisfaction, or dare I say, pleasure?
I saw that one very famous London store was advertising ‘stir up Sunday’ (which actually occurred last weekend) as ‘put your feet up Sunday’ – but where is the fun in that? When you have put your feet up, what then? I am putting my feet up this evening after a busy but incredible day of music, laughter, warmth, creativity and loving friendship.
As I repeatedly remind everyone in my first book, ‘Merry Midwinter‘, sedentary past-times are all very well in reasonably small doses, but you only get out of a situation what you put in… what you contribute… what you help to create. It can be the most ordinary activity or chore, but approached in a positive and festive frame of mind, the magic of the season – of life itself – can be introduced into every mundane nook and cranny.
Try it and just see.
Meanwhile, the gales forecast for tonight are beginning to gather apace, yet the dense darkness of a moonless night is still feels oddly welcoming and benevolent. Inexplicable, unidentifiable but very real seasonal magic is almost crackling through the atmosphere. Perhaps these gales are partly created by the furious passing of Herne the Hunter, or Gwyn ap Nudd as they traverse the winter skies… or the flight of Frau Holle, or the slip stream from Father Christmas’s sleigh, out on a ‘practice run’? …