I love Christmas.
I love the start of Christmas, which for me is the carol service from King's College on Christmas Eve - as the sky is turning to the blues of night and those pure, light voices reach out to ignite the deepest recesses of my heart.
And I love getting up early on Christmas morning - before it's light, before anyone's awake. The quiet hour or two in the kitchen with that same music and my animals for company as I prepare food and watch the day creep in. It is never just about this Christmas, is it? It is always about all Christmases, so the day is rich with the presence of all those we love, have loved, still love... is imbued with the memories and traditions and rituals that are sacred to us and ours.
For me, all that intensity is held in the moment, early in the morning, when the sky is washed from cyan to duck-egg blue, and the last few stars hang low on the horizon, diamond bright. It's a moment that could happen every morning, I suppose, but somehow it is inextricably tied into Christmas.
When I was a child I lived in the West Indies and on Christmas morning we rose before dawn to go to church, as was the custom there. My mother would wake us in the dark, and we'd sit by the Christmas tree drinking hot chocolate and bursting with sleepy excitement. There was only time to open one present from our stockings before setting out, but that made it even more thrilling.
I'll never forget those early mornings, the room in darkness, lit only by the warm glow of old-fashioned Christmas tree lights that you don't see much anymore - the ones in the shapes of snowmen, and little houses, and Father Christmases; the deep glimmer of decorations catching the light in rich, royal shades of purple and blue, pink and gold; the spiky scented pine needles; the pile of presents like promises beneath the tree - alluring, mysterious and all still to come - still to come.
It was magical.
And then the journey in the car. I'm sure it was then that I learned to love the early morning sky, the pale wash of colour, the stars hanging like decorations. And finally, when we got to church, the Christmas carols that wrapped the whole, perfect, mystical moment in music and sealed it in memory like a fragile butterfly caught in amber forever.