By Charmian Evans
PLYMPTON, England — Well, its been an interesting Christmas this side of the pond. The wartime spirit has been brought out in our village. The pubs and church might be shuttered, restaurant dining a thing of the past, but the sense of Christmas has not been dimmed.
At the beginning of the month, we organised a village advent calendar. People volunteered to decorate their windows as a living calendar. As the days passed, the street lit up. Bear in mind the newest house is about 150 years old, most 500 or so, and they’re built on a road that was put in in 1140, so the place looked pretty special.
Lockdown has brought out ingenuity and creativity in spades. Windows have had railways running round, angels flying, spectacular nativity scenes, the lot. One owner rigged up music to trigger with outside movement to co-ordinate with a Santa scene. That’s all fine, but he forgot to turn it off at night and every fox, car or cat triggered the booming tones of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”
In the UK earlier in the year we had “Clap for Carers” every Thursday when people would stand on their doorsteps and clap, whack a saucepan with a wooden spoon, anything to show we were thinking of those brave people who are in the front line dealing with the big CV.
So I had the bright idea of doing a doorstep carol service. Simple. I circulate the carols on the village What’s App and we all start chirruping at 6.30. Nope, not that simple. “We need a starting pitch” said one. “The words vary, as do the tunes, which one are we singing?” said another. “What about those that don’t have What’s App” cried a voice.
Zoom, it seems, was the answer. So we set up a link. I then found the music to carols – but I had to find the words to synchronise with them. Have you ever researched how many variants there are to some of the best known carols? Let me tell you, there are loads.
I’d checked the weather forecasts. The night was to be clear and cold, perfect for our lanterns to shine, our Father Christmas Hats to add colour. All I can say is that if my copy is as inaccurate as the weather predictions, I’d never work again. The rain fell in stair rods.
But we’re British and we man up to such occasions. Bravely, we took to our front doors and those of us that could, linked into zoom and those that couldn’t just joined in with printed words.
Bill Gates I’m not. Too late we realised, as people started to sing, that the zoom speed varied. So we had people singing the second verse as we were starting the third, and so on. Our sheet music turned to papier mache, but did we care? No – thanks to our wonderful publican who became the star of the show. Braving the Niagara-like rain he brought out hot mulled wine, socially spacing to serve it. Boy was it strong. By the second serving we were singing anything that came into our heads, wet through and huddling in the front door.
On Christmas Eve, locals got together and ingeniously turned an old pick-up truck into Santa’s sleigh. He came through the village with his team of, I have to say, rather portly and elderly elves who dished out enough sweets to the excited kids to ensure they would be running round the house until midnight.
I meanwhile had to think of the turkey. I’m so ingrained with feeding the 5,000 at Christmas that it’s impossible for me to do small. The home delivery grocer probably spent Christmas in hospital with a hernia, while I’m looking balefully at the remains of an 18 lb turkey. We’re only allowed six people over the Christmas period. One of those is a vegetarian. So if any of you make it my way during the year, there’ll be no surprise about what you’re eating.
We celebrate Boxing Day, a national holiday, on the 26th December. It’s an odd name, though today could be apt with the Amazon deliveries we get. One explanation is that it comes from the days when servants were given their presents in boxes on the 26th – the first working day after the 25th. The tradition of giving gifts for service extended beyond servants too, and included tradesmen such as milkmen, butchers and so on.
Another theory is that it’s named after the custom of priests opening alms boxes in churches after Christmas. The poor and needy benefitted from the monies collected on the run up to Christmas and apparently some churches still open these boxes on Boxing Day.
Until the CV, Boxing Day is a day for nationwide leisure. Sales start in the shops, and it’s a major day for sporting activities. For others like us, it’s a day to hunker down, enjoy presents, and in our case, eat Turkey, lots and lots of Turkey……
Season’s Greetings to All!