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Seasonal Reflections:  December

(Probably the 1930s) We weren’t very well off. My father worked for Coopers the Drapers in East Street, and they let people pay tick off by instalments and dad was a tally man who went round to collect the instalments on his bike, going right out to Stambridge and Canewdon and even across to Burnham, putting his bike on the ferry. A lot of them were farms and the farmer used to catch a rabbit and give it to dad when he called and at Christmas mum always used to make rabbit pie for breakfast. If we had one during the week, other than Christmas, we had rabbit stew.


I remember we always lit the fire in the front room as it was called, and had our presents. We didn’t have a Christmas tree. We had paper chains which we made. We always had our presents after dinner, I think. I know one year I had a cot for my dolls. My older brother made that for me; he often made things from wood and mum made all the frilly things that went around it.  I also remember being given a photo machine with discs with photos set in which went round, with an album in which you kept these discs. We always had a good dinner on Christmas day. We didn’t have much in those days. If you had a little bar of chocolate in your stocking that was really something. Sometimes we would have nuts or even an orange if they were in the shops but you had to queue for them.

As we got older we might go to an aunt or uncles on Christmas day. Sometimes we went to the Congregational church on Christmas day.”

How times change!


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THE SEASONS: December Reflections originally written in 2010
Good old Wikipedia blithely states Winter is the coldest season of the year in temperate climate, between autumn and spring. At the winter solstice, the days are shortest and the nights are longest, with days lengthening as the season progresses after the solstice,” and if you’re not sure about the winter solstice it gives us the rather fuller description which we’ll put into note form as:

- occurring exactly when the Earth's axial tilt is farthest away from the sun at its maximum of 23° 26' on December 21 or 22 each year in the Northern Hemisphere this creates the shortest day, and longest night, and the sun's daily maximum position in the sky is the lowest.
      - there after there is the gradual lengthening of days and shortening of nights.”
So, in just over a week’s time (21st) this shortening of the days will come to an end and we can start to look forward to the days getting longer - although we won’t really notice it for some time to come! And also, as we’ve learnt from being around this chilly clime for a good number of years, don’t expect it to be getting noticeably warmer until February, we would suggest.  That’s a month which sometimes springs surprisingly sunny and warm days.  There you are, something to look forward to.

We recently asked a small selection of people what they expect of Winter. They suggested - cold, snow, frosts, ice, catching colds or flu, mental tiredness or lethargy (from lack of sun) verging on depression, feeling run down, muddy floors, draughts, cold air by the window, dark mornings and evenings, a desire to hibernate.  

Well how to cheer ourselves up a bit? We’ll leave thoughts of the New Year until after Christmas but let’s focus on some happier thoughts. This list will reveal what sort of life you’ve experienced so far and what sort of person you are. In the list below, check out your emotions. If you want to do this as a serious exercise, stop at each one on the list and imagine it and see what level of joy, happiness or pleasure accompanies it.
- Sitting in front of a log fire
- hearing a choir singing Christmas carols out in the open
- watching your youngest be an angel in the Nativity play
- joining in the shout of “Oh no you won’t!” at a Panto
- going to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve
- putting on a paper hat that doesn’t fit from a cracker
- winning a game of Monopoly after two hours
- walking after leftovers lunch on Boxing Day, in below freezing temperatures
      - shedding a few tears over a Christmas film.
So, OK Scrooge, you don’t have a log fire, you’re fed up with carols, you’re embarrassed by Nativity plays, you can’t afford the Pantomime, you can’t be bothered to go to some emotionally charged candlelit extravaganza in an old church building, you hate paper hats (OK that was the trick one that most of us hate), you can’t stand losing so you never play board games, you don’t like being out in the cold and why be a soft-hearted wuss watching Hollywood trash?  If that is you, you are hereby charged to watch one of the many productions of Scrooge every day until Christmas.  Come on, there must be some things you really enjoy about this time of the year - OK make up your own list then! But have a nice Christmas! Why? Just because it is Christmas!
Already there have been warnings that this is the hardest winter on record with record low temperatures, down in one place to minus eighteen or nineteen degrees Centigrade. Snow, this year, has come and gone, come and hung around in dribs and drabs locally, while elsewhere in the country it has caused chaos.

On these seasonal pages we so often emphasise things to do with the changing weather and the changes in Nature according to the season, but here in the first month of Winter we find ourselves surrounded by changes in human behaviour because of this thing called Christmas.
Let’s start from basics:  Christmas  is observed generally on December 25  to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, the central figure of Christianity.  There is always debate as to whether this date is the actual birthday of Jesus or the date of the Roman winter solstice,  or one of various ancient winter festivals. The former suggestion accounts for the many Nativity plays that are performed in schools and churches in the preceding weeks. The latter suggestion might account for a reverting to simply celebrating for the sake of celebrating is what, for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, is often a cold and hard winter.
Yes, we’re almost at Christmas. Just for interest, we carried out a simple survey recently and asked people what they liked and didn’t like about Christmas. Here are some of the comments we received:
Things I DON’T like about Christmas:
The pressure to buy expensive presents /  The materialism that seems to have taken over Christmas /  Christmas cards  / Not enough mention about Jesus and the real meaning of Christmas /  Busyness /  The needs that are highlighted in those who have little / Santa and Ho! Ho! Ho! /  House decorations that look like Las Vegas /  Christmas dinner /  Manic rushing to prepare for one day / Loneliness /  Cooking meat at 2am /  Doing it all alone /  Being up until 4am getting ready /  The cost /  Emotional memories /  Bling / Over catering /  Expectations  /  Having to work on Christmas day /  Brussel sprouts /  The credit card bill afterwards /  Families in conflict /  Over indulgence with food
Things I DO like about Christmas
Presents  /  Good food /  Jesus / Dr. Who Christmas Special /  Time with family and friends /  Greeting cards /  Fun /  Love / Lights / Giving to others /  Dark nights, cosy lights /  Children’s faces as they open presents /  Sparkly things and joy /  The Christmas tree / Buying gifts for people /  Going and having breakfast with friends /  Opening the stocking on Christmas morning /  Singing carols / Decorating the Christmas tree and our home /  The magic /  Celebrating Jesus’ birthday /  The traditions /  Going out /  Mulled wine and mince pies / Lights on the outside of people’s homes /  Kids’ excitement /  The feeling of stillness and peace at certain times of the day or night /  Smells – candles, spices, ginger-bread men
We also asked people how they’d like to change Christmas:
    Get rid of all the commercialism /  Loose plastic Santas /  Stop our selfishness /  Have ALL my family round /  Have the spirit of Christmas 365 days a year /  Restore the real Christmas /  Have time to help others who are not so fortunate /  Take the stress out
Well, there it is! I wonder what you feel about it.
We don’t know where this came from, but let’s finish with a little light-hearted something:

“What would have happened if there had been three Wise Women instead of three Wise Men? They would have asked for directions earlier, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole and brought practical gifts.”    Yes, well!

What mixed feelings Christmas generates!
But what was the message we hear in the children’s nativity play from the angels to the shepherds: “Peace and good will to all men.”

We also asked an elderly lady for her recollections of Christmas as a child. Here is what she said: