Written Boxing Day, 2017
At Christmas, the sensorium is blessed. From morn’ until nigh’, our bodies and all their faculties are awash with the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and textures that have swept over generations in the flow of December’s festive tide.
The tapestries of Christmas are stitched before our eyes. As the sun hides low behind the conifers, a small clementine flickers from a lantern, ushering a plume of orange light over a darkened lane. Jack Frost sits beside the river, completing a jigsaw of ice over a refrigerated stream. There is a cottage across the water. At first, it is as if it sits upon a puff of frozen fog, perchance a wispy cloud, or the froth of a cappuccino, or soapy lather but it is, of course, snow; the flour of the skies, the dust of a spent year, and for many, a memory when winters were wintry.
The symphony of Christmastime clothes the silence. The belly of a ravenous fire roars for more logs. The carol singers rejoice with their crotchet baubles and tinselled clefs that hang merrily from their decorative staves. Hear the joy of children shredding their hopes and dreams from shells of wrapping paper. Our nostrils take pleasure in vacuuming up thick clouds of blissful aromas. Living rooms are freshened by the Nordic colognes of Christmas trees. As cottages smoke their pipes, the scents of fairytale woodlands ride out of chimneys to settle over the villages. And then there are those newborn smells that are kept wrapped until the big day arrives, when eager fingers break the seals of packaging and allow the odours of the brand new this and the brand new that to make their inaugural visit to the nose.
And then there are the tastes of Christmas; the flavours that bring merriment to our taste buds; the zests that are painfully yearned for during eleven months of the year. Oh how we treat the tongue to the sweet and silky truffle, the rich and fruity wine, the speciality gravy! Each and every Christmas crumb brings with it an edible joy. Estranged for most of the year, at Christmas this festive family of ingredients congregate in a reunion, bringing as an ensemble a cuisine of comfort, of tradition and of security in an uncertain world. Finally, let us not forget the fabric that wraps around us at Christmastime. As we feed the open mouths of log fires, we receive the breath of warmth upon our cheeks; a warmth which chases away the chill from the air. We fondle presents to guess their contents, we tug at crackers, we crunch on crackling and we cup our snow-numbed hands around our mouths.
All of these emblems of Christmastime – the visual garlands, the merry sounds, the joyful fragrances, the resonant tangs, the warm embrace of the season – are as true this year as they were in the last, and to misquote Housman, ‘the air of other Christmases breathe from beyond the snows’.
Boxing Day marks the changing of the guard. The spirit of Christmas Present, who has venerably defended the traditions of the season, steps aside; from now on, the days and nights will be patrolled by a Christmas Spirit of the Past. The marriage between another December and January will soon be upon us. December’s stag doo – the frivolities of Christmas Day, perhaps – have now past and we must see out these final sobering hours before the big day arrives. It’s during these final days that the mind turns to reflect.
I am writing in an armchair that sits before the family clock. For as long as I can remember, the clock has been a stage to that notorious debate between Tick and Tock. On and on they go – ticking and tocking, ticking and tocking – each desiring the final word and neither of them getting it. The pendulum swings between these two voices of time. Occasionally a mighty chime attempts to break down this cul-de-sac of percussive chatter. “Chime...Chime...Chime,” goes the clock, which in translation means, “I’m sorry to interrupt you, Miss Tick, Mr Tock; just to let you know that it’s now 3 o’clock”. Slowly, the chime is netted by some silence and drawn out of the room. Tick and Tock continue their monosyllabic tirade.
Early on during my childhood, these ticks and tocks steadily buried themselves deep in the heart of my subconsciousness. One no longer heard them; they counted out time in silence. On those endless summer days of youth, the urgency of time, the unravelling of time, the constant snatching of the Future by the thieving Present, was never mused upon. Time became irrelevant. Though day and night acted as some daily comma, life seemed like an endless phrase of possibility, scribed from a bottomless inkwell and authored by hope, innocence and joy. As one grows older, one learns that time is not as endless or as infinite as this dream. The nibs of hope, innocence and joy often run dry. Having been away from home for a while, and now sitting beside the family clock, the ticks and tocks are audible again, and what’s more, they thud louder and more stubbornly. The tick is tocked, and the tock is ticked, and I am reminded, yet again, about the passing of time and a dying year.
The final hours of a year are now huddled together, preparing to be placed in the memoriam of our minds. Soon the tapestry of 2017 will be hung, and the first stitches of 2018 will be made; these tapestries colouring and clothing the blank walls down the corridors of life.