A Truly Trad Christmas

This year was, of course, my first Christmas at my parents’ house in the Lakes and it was absolutely glorious.It’s a bit strange really to think of the expectations I had about what Christmas would be like in the countryside, in a small, rural, out of the way kind of place. I imagined carol singers and crisp cold days, and iced over lakes, and candlelight and real fires. A bit like one of those really naff Christmas cards that your ancient aunt Ivy (who’s not really an aunty but some long standing friend of your now dead grandparents) sends every year.The truth is, it was exactly like that.The first week I was there we had day after day of clear, crisp, dry days, with frost on hard frost on hard frost. On the Thursday of that week my mum got a call from the village vicar. His daughter and the neighbour’s daughter were skating up on the tarn and did we want to join them? We had to say no because we don’t own skates (who does outside of a Dickens’ novel?) and then we found out later on (after it had rained and melted everything) that they had an endless supply of spare skates in all sizes we could have borrowed and that that night they had gone up and skated under the full moon at midnight. Sounds just awesome.The amazing winter weather didn’t last, and we spent the rest of the break literally in cloud. The house is up a hill and the cloud was a raincloud so it was damp and foggy and a little bit like the setting for a murder mystery – extremely atmospheric.On Christmas Eve we went to a candlelight carol service at the parish church down the road in Sawrey. Everyone brings their own candle, so there was a whole array of them, some just tealights in jars, some candles in candle holders and at least one giant lantern on a staff. The church stands on a mound in the middle of the village and the bells were ringing out through the fog as all the locals walked up towards it along the lane.The service began in complete darkness with the children singing Silent Night. On the last verse, the parish priest lit the Gospel candle on the altar and then started to read John 1 – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, the same was in the beginning with God.” It was all going fine and then slowly the light began to get dimmer and flicker. The priest lifted the Bible up closer to the light to see it. “The light shone in the darkness,” he read and then paused as the light began to definitely waver with the intention of going out. “And the darkness has not overcome it.” The tension of whether the darkness would actually overcome the light at that moment was palpable, but just about the light held out to the end of the reading and then the taperers started to light hundreds of candles all over the altar and then all our candles in the church, until it was blazing with light. It was very spangly indeed. The organist made it even more entertaining. He played most exuberantly and I half expected him to rise through the floor wearing a gold lamme suit playing a light festooned, multi-coloured Wurlitzer. But alas no. And it seems his efforts weren’t fully appreciated by the locals who still managed to sing even Hark the Herald like a dirge. An hour after we got home we were visited by ten carol singers from down the hill who were doing their annual carol singing crawl over the hill to the other side, calling at everyone’s house on the way. We joined them to have a nosey round the neighbours and were given mince pies and mulled wine at every house. By the time we finished there were about 30 of us and some of us needed more help getting back up the hill than we’d needed going down.I almost couldn’t believe that this kind of thing really happened outside of films. And then Christmas Day came, without snow, sadly, but it was just glorious to be with family in such a nice place, chilled out, in front of a real fire, Christmas cake in one hand, mulled wine in the other. Bliss bliss bliss.


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