Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On the Fourth Day of Advent: DIY Christmas, Winchester-style!

My mum was a single parent with three children under the age of seven.  She became aware, after Dad went away, that Christmas was turning into an unhappy time for her little children, a time of worry and stress.  God alone knows how worrying and stressful it was for her -- that hardly bears thinking about -- but later she told us that, fearful we'd only remember sadness and pain, she decided to create some happy memories for us.

One of these "happy memory creations" was the making of decorations for the Christmas tree.  I imagine she couldn't afford shop-bought decorations so this was probably a cost-saving idea as well.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  Either way, on weekend afternoons in late autumn, we went ambling in the woods of Winchester.  That's a bit vague, isn't it?  There's no such thing really, but we could walk "up the Firs," a stand of glorious fir trees not far from our house, or "down the Water Meadows," a staggeringly gorgeous "living landscape" between Winchester Cathedral and at the base of St. Catherine's Hill, close to Winchester College.  We could walk across North Walls park, our town recreational area, or along the Twyford Downs through which the infamous M-3 now runs.  Wherever we went, we'd pick up pine-cones, acorns, rose-hips, twigs, leaves, seedpods, stones, whatever looked interesting; I recall little bunches of crab-apples, a bit wrinkly but somehow still alive in December.  Of course, there was always holly, mistletoe and ivy, though I can't remember mistletoe being plentiful like it is here in Texas, and I always considered ivy boring.

Back home, Mum would set the table with wire, string, scissors, paintbrushes and little pots of silver and gold paint.  I must say, the way I describe it  now, it all sounds magical and joy-filled!  Eat your heart out, Little House on the Prairie.  Truly, if memory serves, it was mostly bickering and squabbling and slapping of the backs of hands: "I found that one!" and "That's mine!" and "Mum, it's not fair..."  The phrase, "It'll all end in tears," comes to mind.  I believe it often did...end in tears, I mean.  Nonetheless, these home-made natural treasures adorned our tree that Christmas, and remained in our festive collection for years to come, precious and filled with memories, exactly as Mum intended. 

Even now, I choose natural objects for my festive decor: pine cones loiter on the paths throughout my neighborhood, "Pick me, pick me!" and my own jolly holly tree always sports flashy red berries in December.  It lends the whole season a more genuine vibe, a more sincere sense of connection with earlier, simpler times when we didn't need so much stuff to be content and didn't have to try so hard to be happy.  

My Jolly Holly Tree

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