My first Christmas was in 1953 - the year Her Majesty broadcast her Christmas message from New Zealand. She probably didn't expect to be reigning still in 2018 but I think that, once the Queen Mother hit 100 years, we all suspected this daughter would get very close. My Grandad Bobby was born in the same year as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. He died in 1983 and he certainly didn't expect to become an octogenarian - but he did. Reuben George Robert Cecil Temperton 1900-1983. A great man. Not famous - but truly great. I am so glad he didn't know the world today - diminished gentleness in society, a leaning towards the belligerent right in world politics and the very real threat to our environment.
For my first Christmas, spent in the Isle of Axholme, Grandad Bobby and Granny Ivy gave me a teddy bear. I loved it almost to death. It has patches on its paws - so that its straw can't leak - and a tendency to list when in the sitting position. Its fur is thin and non-existent in places and it still watches me as I put away the laundry in the bedroom. Teddy is 65 years old. I am 65 years old - but I can't believe it. It is early December and the memories come flooding back.
The little red post box in the classroom at Epworth County Primary School - now The Old School Inn - gave such simple pleasure when posting and receiving cards to and from school friends and teachers. These school post boxes are still appreciated in schools up and down this fragmented island of ours. I'm not going to make political points here - although we are a family of political conviction - because it is coming up to Christmas and what is worth writing about at Christmas transcends even politics. I am hoping though that, over the coming weeks - these joyful weeks of December and early January, we are all able to see beyond the very real mess we innocents are in here in Britain. No one asked for this - no Brexiteer - no Remainer. I've noticed, perhaps as a result of the uncertainties, an inclination towards traditional aspects of Christmas - and so one is transported through time.
In Epworth there was a shop, belonging to Mr and Mrs Bruce, which sold toys. The windows seemed huge to a little girl and this little girl spent time looking in at those windows with her brother, Michael. Mike was a keen model maker and was constantly on the look-out for a new one for his collection. Some Christmasses our dad would take us to look at the toys and to choose something for Mum because they sold grown-up things too and, as we grew older, we saved our own pocket money and bought little ornaments which seemed just perfect. The joy of giving at Christmas is something which cannot be described in words. One Christmas, Dad took me to Brigg to buy a Christmas present for Mum - and I was to pick. I have a clear recollection of that day - the journey there and back, going from shop to shop, making the final decision and secreting the present away until the day itself.
We perhaps have more shops here in Wick than there were in Brigg then - certainly more than in Epworth even now that Epworth has grown - but I, like so many others, do much of my present shopping online. I wonder what my grandparents would have thought to that. It is only when I stop and directly compare how things were done with how they are done now - and with an imagining of the more distant past - that I realise how quickly things have changed. There's nothing wrong with change. I've just been ordering nuts and dates with my Christmas grocery order - because we always had nuts and dates at Christmas - but I didn't make use of the technology which allows nuts to come to us ready-shelled and dates to come ready-stoned. I wanted them as they used to be. Why is that - when life is made easier without nutshells and date stones?
This blog is written through December and today I have made the first batch of mince pies. Most of these will be going to the little concert which my daughter puts on to celebrate the achievements of her music pupils over the last year. She hires the church room across the square from us and I love the seasonal happiness that fills it. Children and adults perform their chosen pieces - often with a Christmas theme - and their families and friends beam with joy and pride. It is absolute rubbish to say that Christmas is just for children but don't they make us smile!
When I make the mince pies I travel through time and am thankful for all of those happy Christmasses - sometimes I shed a tear for those who are no longer able to share my Christmas. Or are they? They never seem far away. Grandma and Grandad Johnson bringing loaves of plum bread - made to a secret family recipe; Granny Ivy and Grandad Bobby welcoming us on Christmas morning; Auntie Gwen and Uncle Pete arriving with my cousins - and so many more people who have died and left a huge gap - not least my darling dad who became a kid again at Christmas.
A day later and I am wrapping presents to send abroad and to friends who will be away from home at Christmas. I refuse offers of help and get there in the end, having luxuriated in marvellous memories and hopes for their future. It will be a pity if I ever am unable to complete the task because, whilst I am sticking myself together with Selotape, I am thinking with fondness of the people who will open our parcels on Christmas morning.
The middle of December now - and, as I type, Ginny and Judith are sawing branches off the oversized Christmas tree whilst Clem is changing for her staff dinner at the Mackay's Hotel - situated on the shortest street in the world - Ebenezer Place. A familiar Christmas name!
I started writing the Christmas cards last night - didn't get very far - and reflected on the view that we would be better giving to charity than spending money on cards. But why would we stop sending annual greetings to friends of 60 years? Why would we not send to Elspeth who is spending her first Christmas alone since the premature death of her partner? Why stop our Christmas interaction with those we chatted to at the school gates when we dropped off the children, to walk in with theirs, 35 years ago? I decided that I shall continue to give to charities and continue to remember friends and family when I write their cards. I'm not dreaming of a white Christmas - I'm dreaming of all those people who have made me smile.
So here we are - the usual butterflies in case it is simply not possible to fulfil the plans we are making. Still only part way with so many things. I find I can no longer tolerate Delia Smith preaching at me from the pages of her Feast for Advent but I use her suggested Bible readings to keep me on course. We also get our daily readings from our very lovely Advent calendar - probably the nicest ever. I can't imagine what Christmas would be like without the baby in the manger. Cheerful chappies in Santa suits, elves, pantomime, seasonal decorations, food, food and more food . . . . love 'em all - but it's unrequited. The love I have for the Saviour certainly isn't. His love for me is something else. This is where Christmas gets real.
I light the crib candles when I come downstairs each morning. I switch off the hall light - and I consider it all. Other religions have their festivals of light. Advent and Christmas keep us in line. Our crib stays put until Candlemas - nobody wants to put it away. The figures are of course symbolic - just as the photo my mum keeps of me is symbolic. I'm not there in person so she keeps a symbol of me.
There has been a midwinter festival since the dawn of time. We have a fundamental urge to celebrate the turning towards the sun. There are some late autumn and winter days here in the Far North when it is difficult to identify daylight. A stormy day will necessitate the constant burning of electric lights. We seek light as we seek goodness. In stories the bad things often happen under cover of darkness. The story of the birth of Jesus is a bit different really. We believe that the Saviour - the Light of the World - was born at night. Many babies are. We also believe that a great light shone on the hillside near Bethlehem and that shepherds then knew something special had happened nearby.
It is now Christmas Eve and, having prepared the food for tomorrow, I'm relaxing for a while before heading out to Midnight Mass. Hope I don't fall asleep! But then I will be in good company - a baby is sleeping over centuries - and next Christmas my first grandchild, a little girl expected in January, will listen to her mother's beautiful voice as she sings her a cradle song. So many miles, so many years, so much Love.