Saturday, 21 December 2013


I lay in bed last night and listened to the wind howling through the trees and around the chimney pots, the hail spattering against the window panes and the distant rhythm of surf pounding on the shore.
Bleak midwinter indeed.
But, safe in my warm nest I didn't feel bleak. This is a time of year when there is something vibrant pulsing at the core, and when night enfolds you it is like black velvet wrapped around a bright kernel, so in the heart of the darkness, the wildness outside lulled me to sleep very quickly.
It is a time of year when the night is often better than the day. This morning was possibly the most horrible day ever spawned. Rain, rain and more rain, borne on winds gusting to 105km/hr.

A couple of weeks ago, someone told me we were going to have blizzards, and snow lasting into mid-January. To my mind, an infinitely preferable alternative.

But heigh-ho. It's only weather, after all, and I have spent the day in my kitchen, all the animals curled up in their various beds, snoozing the hours away. I've been decorating my Christmas tree, wrapping a few presents, and writing last minute Christmas cards.

My Christmas tree

My friend Mairead posted a lovely piece on her blog recently called In Praise of Christmas Cards which was very apposite and beautifully written. She mourns the slow decline of Christmas Cards, she feels they are an important part of our tradition and - perhaps more to the point - our personal history. She is, of course, quite right. How can an email possibly compare? However warm the wishes, it doesn't sit on your mantelpiece looking pretty and seasonal, or last. And as for texts - well, there is nothing to be said.

She and my mother are as one in this, although even Mairead probably doesn't expend as much zeal in the matter as my Mama. In truth, I have never known anyone who takes Christmas cards more seriously - she does a proper job, with news and personal letters enclosed - she probably thinks a 'round robin' is that plumptious little creature on her bird table. And she has them mailed in good time, not like my last minute scrabble to catch the final posting day.

It was today, the final posting day for Christmas. No surprise that I was writing cards, then.
I looked out of the window regularly, waiting for a momentary pause in the rain so I could scoot down to the post box, but the passing hours only brought more rain, blowing ever more sideways. Being washed down to the post office did not seem an appealing prospect , but then suddenly an angel appeared. It is traditional of course, at Christmas. This angel took the form of my friend the Talentui Goddess. I didn't see her wings at first, only when she announced that she was on her way into town did I spot the soft feathers fluttering behind her chic hat.
'You're not going to the post office?' I asked, hardly daring to hope for such a reprieve.
'No,' she said. 'But I can. I'm going past it.'
What a honey.

If pushed, I'd have to admit that it's not cards, but Christmas carols that are the essential part of the season for me. I don't mean bashing out O Come All Ye Faithful with some person coughing on your left side and someone else blowing their nose to your right, but rather the lucid perfection of King's College choristers singing John Rutter or The Coventry Carol or something angelic along those lines. It's not possible for me to make mince pies, or write cards, or decorate trees without those clear voices in the background. 

Essential Christmas

But I do love Christmas cards.
I don't send many these days - postage being so exorbitant - but I am very choosy about what I buy. They have to pass some indefinable yardstick. They have to really appeal to me, even if they are not conventionally beautiful. And - pleased as I am to receive any cards at all these days, I have a definite marking system for the ones I do get. Every year I keep one or two that I specially like, which are hung vertically on ribbons, and each Christmas all the 'specials' from previous years come out of their box and decorate the walls all over again.

One of my 'specials'

Perhaps loving Christmas cards is also about anticipation. To me, this last week or so before Christmas is almost the best bit of all.

I love midwinter, the days getting shorter and shorter, the trees bare against the darkening sky, the stars fierce and brilliant, houses filled with light and, despite the horrors of the world, everyone looking forward to something, whatever that may be.

Here we are, in the deepest dark of the year, the long, cold reaches of winter still to come, the slow return of the light tantalisingly ahead as the earth pauses - pivoting, slowly turning towards her next brave horizon; yet hidden within the folds of her dark skirts is Christmas, like a warm heart glowing in the depths of the night, a bright kernel shrouded in velvet.


  1. Glad you kept warm and cosy as the West seemed to have taken the brunt of the storms.
    Yes, I do like sending and receiving Christmas cards but I really think the cost of postage is acting as a deterrent - I was horrified at how much stamps cost me this year.
    I do like carols but I think it's the decorations, especially the tree, which spells Christmas for me. They really seem to tie in with the ancient tradition of a festival to lift the spirits in the midst of winter.

  2. A friend and I spoke of wind yesterday--how instinctively we associate it with dark nights, something mysterious and even a bit ominous just beyond our walls.

  3. I love your posts; I often read them but rarely comment. But just wanted to let you know how much I've enjoyed them over this past year, and how I look forward to them in 2014. I love the way you describe the winter months, and I agree also about Christmas cards. A few years ago, I bought a cork board and I wrapped it in beautiful blue and silver wrapping paper. As Christmas cards came in, I tacked each one onto the board until it was full - and overflowing. I fully expected when I removed the cards to see Christmas wrapping paper in shreds but to my surprise, I couldn't tell that holes had ever been in it. I am going on my 10th Christmas now with the same cork board and same wrapping paper. It's kept in the living room where I can enjoy looking at it through the holiday season. Merry Christmas to you!

  4. Fantastic read very cold and snow on the mountains .Snow sports on the hill.


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