The Sense of
There is no other time of year when our
senses are stimulated more than at Christmas. There's a physical, sensory
response, triggered, if you're lucky, from memories and recollections
of warmth and happiness, that is intensified by this time of year. Certain
tastes, smells and sights are programmed to respond to a switch marked
One of my earliest memories from childhood
was a whispered question from my little sister, "Has he been yet?".
We shared a bedroom, and if you're thinking did they have ice on the
inside of the window back in those days; yes, we did! Our gifts were
delivered to the end of our beds in a pillow case. Hardly daring to breathe,
let alone open our eyes, the anticipation of "has he been yet",
was so scarily exciting, he could hear our hearts beat. Wiggling toes
probed the covers, feeling for the weight of presents. Our family 'rule'
was as soon as we heard the radio playing carols from our parent's 'Teasmade',
we'd piled onto their bed and empty the pillow cases of tantalising shapes
and sizes - soft, squidgy ones for squeezing, wrapped boxes for shaking,
all begging for the pretty paper to be ripped off as oranges rolled under
the bed and chocolate money foil scattered across the floor like golden
The taste and smells of Christmas are
like those of no other time of year. Spices from exotic places; cinnamon,
clove and nutmeg percolating from rich, fruit-filled, brandy-soaked cakes
and puddings, roasting turkey and stuffing, sprouts and parsnips. Intoxicatingly
warm scents of candles and clean, sharp conifers; tangerines and chestnuts
roasting on an open fire... wait a minute, that's not true, I'm getting
carried away! It's interesting when we say, "It smells like Christmas";
we wouldn't say, "It smells likes Easter", other than it being
chocolatey, the smells and tastes brings us together as we all know exactly
how Christmas smells.
There's also the sense
of Christmas as a metaphysical state of
awareness of an end and a beginning. The seasonal
rituals begin as the winter solstice approaches;
the darkest day on which the sun starts to regain
energy that will climax at its midsummer zenith.
We bring the light into our homes with tinsel
and twinkling lights as relief from the darkness
outside and greenery as a symbol of nature's
The lights in the village generate a luminous
glow into the opaque night, a glittering relief from the winter-blackness
of empty cottages. The village sparkles into life with an illuminated
cross, a pudding, bells, and because it's a fishing village, the outline
of a trawler radiates from the lifeboat house wall, add to this an anchor,
a couple of dancing dolphins and a loop of lights stretching round the
curve of the beach, reflecting kaleidoscopic fractals of moving colour
in the lacy fringe of the surf.
I'm not religious and whatever the origins
of the winter festival are: pagan ritual or early Christians hi-jacking
the Roman Saturnalia of feasting, drinking and making merry as an acceptable
means of integrating the bible story to get their message over, I don't
have to believe in mangers, Mary and the Magi to love the traditions
of Christmas. I have been fortunate to have my family and friends and
to wish and be wished peace and goodwill is a lovely sentiment.
Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?......
PS. The Story of the Drunken Turkey
My sister reminded me of this family story and it still makes us smile.
Although known as the Christmas of "The
Drunken Turkey", it wasn't so much that the turkey was drunk! Our
dad finished work on Christmas Eve and it was his responsibility to buy
the turkey from a butcher in the local market and bring it home, on the
bus, for mum to stuff and prepare ready for the oven on Christmas morning.
In theory..simple!. What hadn't been factored
in was a session of seasonal 'good cheer' with dad's work mates. For
a man who didn't touch a drop from one year to the next, this probably
wasn't a good idea!
At home, it was past our
bedtime and mum was fidgety; mince pies
made, cake iced, sprouts peeled, three small
children, wound up and excited and so much to
do. Around 7pm, we heard dad's key in the door,
he staggered into the kitchen with a twenty-two
pound turkey, still attached to its head and
Some men roll over Niagera Falls in a
barrel as a death-defying act. Our dad...nothing so simple! Christmas
Eve, drunk, crying children, unplucked, gizzard-attached, feathery turkey...got
Our lovely dad chased
us round the house with a huge, dead bird,
wobbling its wattle at us, laughing and giggling.
We were confused, not twigging that this was
fun - but mum! Our mum was a little person but
when she got mad, she got really mad...every
inch of her five foot frame incandescent with
anger, emitted sparks that could be seen in Lapland.
We all know that Christmas being Christmas,
magic happens! We went to bed, dad went to bed. In the morning; a lovely
turkey smell wafting around the house. The story goes that dad went to
bed for an hour to snore off his Guiness and port; returned to his turkey,
suitable repentant and admonished, taught himself a new skill of de-heading
and plucking a huge bird...the rest is another family Christmas!
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