I like autumn. There’s nothing better than to go out on a misty, November day with the sun low in the sky, casting shadows across the fields. Or to wander along country lanes and observe the winter retreat of wildlife. The sycamore and oak trees have shed their leaves and cut majestic figures in the sky. The beech, ash and hazel have retained theirs. Their green and yellow leaves serve as a reminder of spring. You’ll see blackbirds and wood pigeons flitting about in the hedgerows, feasting on late berries and insects brought on by the warm weather. There will be squirrels hopping from tree to tree in search of nuts and acorns to stash away, while sheep graze, oblivious.
When the clocks go back, the nights start drawing in. Halloween and Bonfire Night come and go. Mice start coming into the kitchen - a sure sign that it’s getting colder, and winter is on the way. Next thing you know it’ll be Christmas. They’ll have been advertising it in the shops for months. Soon they’ll start on the Christmas jingles, that you can’t get out of your head, whether you like it or not, like It's the season to be jolly. Tra-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la, or even worse I wish it could be Christmas every day.
When I was a kid, I loved Christmas. We didn’t have electricity in those days so there were very few distractions. Christmas was a time for the gathering of the clan. A succession of aunts and uncles bearing gifts, would drop in throughout the festive season. I liked the slow build-up beforehand and the excitement of waking up on Christmas morning, to see what delights Santa had put in our stockings: an orange, a sugar mouse, chocolate money. We lived on a farm and the animals still had to be fed and watered. The day itself was like any other, except there was an air of cheerfulness in the house. Religion didn’t feature in my life then, apart from the nativity play at primary school.
By the time I left home, Christmas had become a commercial enterprise and I wanted no part of it. Rather than go home to celebrate with my parents, I took to travelling abroad for the festive season, the further away the better. One year might find me lying in a hammock on a Caribbean Island, off Belize City. Another I’d be in a secluded Andean community, having crossed the Bolivian altiplano on the back of a freezing lorry, or staying with friends in an African village in South Sudan, where they didn’t celebrate Christmas at all.
These days I try not to succumb to all the hype. I refuse to make any plans or take practical decisions until December. You never know what’s going to happen when you live out in the sticks. Last November we were beset by the Beast from the East, which devasted swathes of trees and brought down power lines, leaving us without electricity for four days. The phones were off so we couldn’t get updates on how the work was progressing and were completely in the hands of the power company. I heard later they had to import engineers from abroad due to a shortage of labour. But we were left floundering around the house in the dark, searching for candles and batteries for the radio. People resorted to boiling water and heating soup on multifuel burners if they had them.
The episode reminded me of my childhood days, only back in the 1950s we weren’t dependent on electrical appliances and our parents were more resilient anyway. Last year I felt bereft without my broadband and streaming services. Sitting in the dark, listening to the radio on a cold winter’s night, with the food going off in the fridge, was no joke. I will be better prepared this year. I have bought a head torch, replaced the radio batteries and the gas canister and stocked up with canned soup. What can possibly go wrong?
When I get round to it, I’ll probably abandon the lifetime habit of sending of cards. It’s high time and anyway the cost of postage stamps it exorbitant and there will most likely be a postal strike. It’s a pity because I like receiving them and they come in handy as replacement decorations. I have never in my life bought a tree. I prefer to hang my lights on one of the indoor plants, which has grown to a great height. Searching for the perfect gift for the family is a fruitless task and bound to fail. It's better to save yourself the trouble and buy gift tokens or books, which can be dispatched direct to front doors. It avoids buying wrapping paper and the family will be the happier for it. Alternatively, give them a treat: a meal out or a cinema experience if you want to be different.
Social arrangements can be very tricky at this time of year. People tend to go a bit mad. They rush around trying to see all their friends beforehand, as if the world were about to end. All being well and it doesn’t, there should be opportunity to catch up with people in the New Year. It’s important not to accept invitations for every event. Going to three carol services is a row, because you don’t know how to say No, is not advisable. Believe me. This year the festive season is likely to be more frenetic than usual, despite the cost-of-living crisis, simply because for two years we’ve been under Covid restrictions. It’s better not to go to an event than to attend just out of politeness. If you can’t find a good excuse for getting out of it, you can always lie. No one will argue with you if you have double-booked or are coming down with something.
As the day approaches, make sure you are celebrating it the way you want to. It may be the season of good will, but there is nothing worse than having to endure hours of false jollity. For me that includes taking part in games and charades and being in such company where it is required. Christmas is a perfect time for reflection, so I like to set aside time on my own. I make sure I have a stock of seasonal foods in the house, such as dates, oranges, chestnuts, mince pies or stollen and an ample supply of booze. Finally, I salve my conscience about the state of the world by donating to my favourite charity, then, taking a lesson from the animals, I hibernate.
About the author
Jenny Palmer writes short stories, poetry, memoir and family history. Her stories are on the Cafelit website. Her collection 'Keepsake and other stories,' published by Bridge House, 2018, is available on Amazon. Her latest book 'Witches, Quakers and Nonconformists,' 2022, is sold at the Pendle Heritage Centre, Barrowford.
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