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1st December is the day of the china swap. Out goes anything summery-looking, to be stashed in a cupboard. In come robins, reindeer and winter shrubs and flowers. Sounds grand but actually takes me about five minutes. New this year is the little Brambly Hedge plate I picked up at the market during the summer. Rather twee, but I like it.

bramblyhedgeplate
To the garden centre again yesterday for another look at the winter wonderland display, which has been up since October. I’d received my invitation to the special opening evening in August! I felt things were lower key than usual this year but there was still plenty of wackiness around and people of all ages were enjoying the festive scene. You don’t often see a Christmas banjo, so I liked this chap.

stewarts13banjo
more! )
There are some books which I re-read every Christmas, and I’ve probably written about them every December for the past six years. Here’s a little stash of new-to-me books I’ve been hoarding this year.

christmasbooks2013

The one on top, The Thirteen Days of Christmas, is very popular with girlsowners. I read another book by Jenny Overton once, Nightwatch Winter, and didn’t like it at all, so I’ll be interested to try this one. As well as these, I have two on the Kindle from NetGalley: Christmas at Carringtons by Alexandra Brown and Ten Lords A-Leaping by C C Benison. These are both out this month. The main character in Ten Lords A-Leaping is called Father Tom Christmas, which may not make it a Christmassy book. It was recommended by Mary, which is why I requested it.

These plans would be all very well if I didn’t already have so many other books I want to read. I’m currently totally absorbed in Elizabeth Speller’s At Break of Day/The First of July, (also from NetGalley), reading it in every spare second. When I went to the library the other day I intended just to return books, but couldn’t resist grabbing the latest No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency book while it was there. Then I was attracted by the cover of The Home Corner by Ruth Thomas, so I picked that up as well. I’ve also been saving up a D E Stevenson for a cosy read: Miss Bun the Baker’s Daughter. I will pass over the rest of the TBR piles.
This year, for the first time ever, I’ve made my own Christmas cards (see previous market post about big value card-making buy). Here’s a few of them.

christmascards2013

Now I’ve made a rod for my own back; not making the cards, which was fun and all new to me, but choosing. The more I made, the better I got at it, so I have awful decisions to make about who gets the ones I think are less good. Silly me, I’m sure people will be pleased to get a hand made card, even if it’s not perfect.
adventcandle
Image from here

Every year, on the first Sunday in Advent, a candlelit service is held in our Minster Church. The church is in darkness to begin with, then the choir processes, singing O come, O come Emmanuel. I’ve always loved this hymn, with its hint of plainsong. This is the version I know.

O come, O come, Emmanuel!
Redeem thy captive Israel
That into exile drear is gone,
Far from the face of God's dear Son.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel


Any other favourite hymns for the season?

advent


A happy and peaceful Christmas to all.
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

botticelli


Bob manages to read this in a way that makes it sound as though he wrote it himself!
simpkinsnow
Simpkin in the snow

The Tailor of Gloucester has been called ‘Beatrix Potter’s King Lear’. I’d give that accolade to The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, but the tale of the poor old tailor, his cat Simpkin and hundreds of stitching mice is a wonderful Christmas story.

‘the Mayor of Gloucester is to be married on Christmas day in the morning’ and the tailor is making his wedding coat and waistcoat. All is cut out ready to sew, the only thing lacking ‘one single skein of cherry-coloured twisted silk’ for the buttonholes. Then the tailor becomes ill and Simpkin spitefully hides the twist he has been sent to buy. How will the suit be ready by Christmas morning, when there’s ‘no more twist’? It is finished, of course, in the most magical way. Here is Christmas Eve in Gloucester:

But it is in the old story that all the beasts can talk, in the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas day in the morning. …
When the Cathedral clock struck twelve, there was an answer – like an echo of the chimes – and Simpkin heard it, and came out of the tailor’s door, and wandered about in the snow.
From all the roofs and gables and old wooden houses in Gloucester came a thousand merry voices singing the old Christmas rhymes …
First and loudest the cocks cried out –‘Dame get up and bake your pies!’ …
And now in a garret there were lights and sounds of dancing, and cats came from over the way.
‘Hey, diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle! All the cats in Gloucester – except me,’ said Simpkin.
Under the wooden eaves the starlings and sparrows sang of Christmas pies; the jackdaws woke up in the Cathedral tower; and although it was the middle of the night, the throstles and robins sang; the air was quite full of little twittering tunes.


Poor old Simpkin has a miserable night, especially when he sees the mice at work in the tailor’s shop but then ‘Simpkin felt quite ashamed of his badness’, and all ends happily. I absolutely loved re-reading this; it repays any number of readings.

nomoretwist
No more twist
ratmole

Dulce Domum is one of my favourite chapters from The Wind in the Willows. The Mole and the Rat have been out all day with Otter and are returning home through the early dusk of midwinter. Passing through a village they see squares of a dusky orange red on either side of the street, where the firelight or lamplight of each cottage overflowed through the casements into the dark world without. Most of the low latticed windows were innocent of blinds, and to the lookers-in from outside, the inmates, gathered round the tea-table, absorbed in handiwork, or talking with laughter and gesture, had each that happy grace which is the last thing the skilled actor shall capture … the two spectators, so far from home themselves, had something of wistfulness in their eyes as they watched a cat being stroked, a sleepy child picked up and huddled off to bed …

So Grahame sets up, at the beginning of the chapter, the ideal of the cosy home, all fire and warmth and happy companionship.
the rest )
091112polarglitter

Garden centres have had a hard year of it, with the terrible weather making it hard for people to stay interested in their sodden gardens. So it’s even more important that they recoup some of their losses at Christmas. Our garden centre has gone OTT as usual with a startling display. As you walk in, you are greeted by huge furry reindeer, almost life size. Singing creatures on wires whiz about above your head. There are table settings, variously colour themed, and aspirational Christmas sets.
more glittery delights )
wendytrish

Wendy and her friend Trish are sickened by Christmas commercialism.
And this

wendycross

is the last straw!
But then:
this happens )
adventpostcard

I spent all yesterday afternoon writing cards and I still haven’t finished. There’s a ritualistic element to it. Put on CD of baroque Christmassy music, because you should enjoy writing cards to all your dear friends and relatives and not look on it as a chore. On the table: bottle of ink, fountain pen, list of people who sent me cards last year, address book, piles of cards. Then as you work through the list, wonder, ‘did that person have that card last year?’ Try to suit the card to the recipient.

For those who think Christmas is more commercialised now than in the olden days, here’s a quote from The Diary of a Nobody, published in 1892.
DECEMBER 20. Went to Smirksons’, the drapers in the Strand, who this year have turned out everything in the shop and devoted the whole place to the sale of Christmas cards.
Do you send many cards?
Carrie said the great disadvantage of going out into Society and increasing the number of our friends was, that we should have to send out nearly two dozen cards this year.
The writers intended people to laugh at the Pooters, so we can assume that two dozen was quite a small number of cards to send (for those who could afford it). The post has changed, of course.
DECEMBER 21.To save the postman a miserable Christmas, we follow the example of all unselfish people, and send out our cards early.
dutchcard

This cute little Dutch Christmas greeting was inside one of the Georgette Heyers I bought from a charity stall earlier in the year. It’s postmarked on the back 1965. Very appropriate for St Nicholas, whose feast is celebrated in the Netherlands and other places today.
advent12012

No decorations for me yet, but it’s time to get out the seasonal china and the advent calendar. The calendar is last year’s but I won’t remember what’s behind each window so it will still be fun.

Every year, there’s a candlelit Advent service in the Minster church. It’s always packed and you have to arrive early to get a seat. The service always opens with this hymn as a processional.

O come, O come, Emmanuel!
Redeem thy captive Israel
That into exile drear is gone,
Far from the face of God's dear Son.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.


Absolutely spine tingling. I love the Advent hymns, especially Of The Father’s Love Begotten and Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.
Who doesn’t love Fauré’s Pie Jesu? Get in training for listening to lots more choristers this month.
I heard on the news this morning that 400 choirs in the UK will be performing The Messiah this Christmas. Evergreen, or what? I'm still working on my Christmas playlist and meanwhile I've just voted for my favourite carol: doesn't someone do this every year?

I love to get out these old books each December; to me, they are Christmas.



my carol pick )
Yesterday's Telegraph Review section, the only one I'm guaranteed to read all through, carried a list of 100 Things To Get You In The Mood For Christmas. Mysteriously, all the books and DVDs recommended were available from Amazon.co.uk and not, apparently from anywhere else. I searched in vain for evidence that this was advertorial.

Their ideas are predictable but mostly good: The Messiah, readings from Lucy & Tom's Christmas and The Wind in the Willows etc. For lovers of kidlit I notice that you can see stage productions of Tom's Midnight Garden in Manchester and of Marianne Dreams at the Almeida. I can't see what makes this brilliant but frightening book Christmassy and am intrigued to know how they will bring in dancing. Anyone seen it or planning to?

Me, I'll stick to angelic choirboy voices and Christmas at Nettleford by Malcolm Saville.

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