Sunday, 23 December 2012

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

The following piece was written for Legend Press' Advent Calendar, where it appeared a couple of weeks ago.

I remember only one sprinkling of Christmas snow during my 32 years of living in Britain, and grey drizzle washed that out in hours.  However, Christmas has always been a pagan festival for me and so every year, even as an adult, I’d hope for a rejuvenating, wintry blanket of the stuff.  It’s not something I’m likely to see these days, living on the south coast of Australia, and although I might feel ambivalent about dressing a Christmas tree during the heat of summer (frosted baubles, icy tinsel, sprigs of holly and mistletoe), I’ve reconciled myself to Christmas lunches beneath the shade of the grapevine, sipping chilled white wine and eating oysters, instead of carving roast turkey by an open fire.  My Australian Christmas is deliciously hedonistic and pagan, and I’m glad we can improvise rituals and ceremonies to suit our environment.  All the same, I still hanker on occasion for a white Christmas.  There’s something magical about such a prospect, and not just for the child I once was either. 

Many years ago, when I was studying at University of Wales in Cardiff and living in Senghenydd, I stretched out on my settee one Sunday afternoon in January and read two children’s books by Paul Theroux: A Christmas Card and London Snow.  These books drew me in and absorbed me so completely that I wanted to re-read them straightaway.  Both were compelling winter’s tales, evoking nostalgia for the romantic things we associate with Christmas as children, even if we rarely experience them, and it seemed hardly surprising when I looked out the window upon finishing A Christmas Card to see snow falling.  Quite magically.  It made me wish I’d read them on Christmas Eve instead and I promised myself I’d do this next Christmas.

Needless to say I forgot, but two years later, when telling a group of Year 8 students about this, they asked if I’d read them to the class, which I did, and sure enough, that evening it snowed.  They were as delighted as I was, and it proved to them, I hope, the enchantment of good literature. 

I’ve read both books many times since, and while they still evoke everything I like and wish from a northern winter, and they’re everything a good winter’s tale should be, they’re unable to bring the snow to me anymore.  Maybe that’s why I wrote a winter’s tale of my own, for adults, and why Christmas and snow became strong motifs in The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore, so I might try and recreate a similar magic for myself and others too.  I hope so.

Merry Christmas to you and a happy new year.

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