Saturday, December 13, 2008

Have yourself a merry little Christmas...

Little is the operative word here. Our pretty little flat is minimally decorated this year because Christmas suddenly appeared without warning (it's these mild Devon Decembers - they trick you), Christmas presents have stolen the overdraft, and our few ornaments have been eaten by Simon's parents' attic. Next year I will plan ahead (I say this every year), but this year we've decorated just to get us in the Christmas spirit as we won't be here when the day actually arrives - a week today we fly to America for my first Christmas there in three years, and Simon's first away from his family.

This is me and my dad, many years ago now. I'm talking - as usual. He looks so young there, and healthy, this is long before he was ill and is the way I like to remember him. My instinct always places this photo as the same Christmas that my mom gave me my Gwinna doll - not Gwinna really, I don't think, but obviously reminiscent of that red-haired girl who grew wings in the beautiful, luminous Barbara Helen Berger book. I always think of that book as glowing, all of the illustrations pulse with a kind of inner light. My mom didn't make the Gwinna doll, but this was back when she did make dolls, even sold some through the nearby Waldorf school, soft cotton star-shaped babies and a brown-haired brown-eyed one that looked like me. It's been a long time since my mom has made dolls and it's hard to imagine her doing that now - like me, I think my mother goes through phases of these things, an intense interest that fades as life changes. It's strange to think of, we are all so different now than we were then, and there is an emptiness where my dad is, that only pictures like this and my hazy (possibly imagined, certainly embellished) memories can try to fill. I find that I do come back to some of my young phases, however, years later, so maybe Mom will make dolls again, in that distant future when we have children and there is some reason for it again.

I don't think this picture can be the same Christmas as the Gwinna doll, however. That Christmas, I'm sure (I think) is the one where I painstakingly copied out all the lyrics of the many verses to O Little Town of Bethlehem, my favourite Christmas carol, as a gift for my parents. I can't have been more than six then, but I must have been older than the me in the photographs. It's still my favourite, but it's one of the few things that jars in an English Christmas for me - in England it has a completely different melody, more joyful, upbeat almost. It is the sadness that I like most about the version that I know and love, the solemness, the stillness, the wonder. In the more melancholy version, I can feel the cold, the empty streets, the stars twinkling, each solitary in the sky, waiting, watching. It's that feeling that I like, and the reason I copied the song for my parents who were quite unreligious, and very rarely sang Christmas carols.

Here is our tiny Christmas card display, including (although you can't see it very well because I am a terrible photographer) our little Advent calendar from Simon's parents. Although I am decidedly agnostic in my religious views, there is something about the traditional Christian Christmas that deeply appeals to me and I love Advent. I'll always fall for a good story, and this is one of the best. When it comes to Advent calendars, I've always preferred the traditional ones with pictures each day, counting down to a final double door on Christmas Eve. We always looked forward to it (I'm sure my sister opened those doors early more than once - but I never did) as though it was a surprise, as though it wasn't always Mary and the baby in the manger. My cousin's blog reminded me of another Advent tradition in Waldorf teaching, the star walk, where figures of Mary and Joseph walk along a path of stars to the stable, getting one star nearer every day. The stars they've left behind are placed in a blue felt sky above them. Finally, Simon's parents have an Advent ring wreathed with holly and ivy, with four red candles for each Sunday of Advent and a final white candle for Christmas day. I like these ways of counting down to Christmas, making the getting there almost as important as the day itself.

I am not a fan, however, of what passes for an Advent calendar for most children in England these days, with chocolate behind the doors instead of a picture. The plastic and foil shell left behind does not make a nice display for the mantelpiece, there's no story to it - and it rots their teeth. When it comes to the holidays, I don't see how American obesity rates can be so much higher - in England, the term Easter eggs, for instance, usually refers to large chocolate eggs rather than coloured real eggs.

To finish, here is my little indoor rose bush. It is much prettier than it looks here. If I could take pictures properly, you would see how beautiful it is.

Happy ten days to Christmas - and eight days to my birthday, by the way!


Erin said...

Your picture of you and your dad is exactly how I remember him too. I have a picture of me sitting next to him when I was about 6 or 7 at Thanksgiving. I used to have such fun with him. I thought he was the best uncle ever.

N has exactly the kind of advent calendar you described. My favorite as well :)

bri said...

lovely writing, amelia.

Becky said...

Like the picture of your tree! We just went out and got one this afternoon and I can't believe how expensive they are. It is only mini, a baby tree at the moment really, but it has roots so I am hoping we can grow it to become bigger and more beautiful year by year.

Totally agree with you on the Advent calendars, the ones with the pictures are sooo much better. We used to keep ours and re-open the doors on the old ones, as well as a new one each year. You can still get them in places like the National Trust and Oxfam, but they seem to sell out really quickly.