Ten days ago all the signs were for it being a white Christmas this year. Weather forecasters didn’t actually promise one but we all kept hoping.
They produced exotic maps of the jet stream explaining that if it stayed up in the north we could be snowballing on Christmas Day.
But if it moved further down it would mean we could still get cold weather but not the white stuff.
None of it made a lot of sense to me and after this week’s mild weather sent my planted bulbs into a tizzy of growth I replaced coats with cardigans.
I could even have started some spring gardening but for the fact my Christmas tree lights twinkle out into the twilight and who in their right mind would be gardening in the week running up to the most festive time of the year?
No. I definitely wanted to feel the Christmas mood but the mild air wasn’t doing it for me. It was never like this in my childhood in rural south Derry that I can recall.
Those were the days of proper winters when snow or a good frost was always a possibility for Christmas Eve.
And if snow didn’t fall it was cold enough to ‘wrap up warm’ to use that awful expression so beloved of our BBC weather forecasters.
So to get into the festive mood this week there was no option but to turn to my store of Christmas books, the favourite of which is The Father Christmas Letters by JRR. Tolkien.
The famous author had four children and John, the eldest was three years old when he received the first letter from Father Christmas in 1920. For the next 20 years Tolkein’s children received magical Christmas letters from the North Pole. They were introduced to a host of characters, Snow-elves, Red Gnomes, snow-men, cave-bears and the polar bear’s naughty nephews Paksu and Valkotukja. Polar Bear was Father Christmas’s chief assistant who was blamed for ‘all the muddles and deficiencies in the Christmas stockings’. The letters were addressed to The Tolkiens, 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford, England and were beautifully illustrated with all the disasters that befell the Father Christmas household at the North Pole as they helped prepare the man himself for his journey to visit children around the world.
It’s easy to imagine how excited those children must have been as they waited each Christmas for the magic letter. His last epistle to his children, by now grown-up, was to expresses his gladness that ‘you did not forget to write to me again this year’. He wrote about ‘the horrible war’ when so many people had lost their homes.
They had had their own troubles in the North Pole, not only had fighting broken out among the goblins but stores were getting low ‘and I have now to send what I can, instead of what is asked for’. Importantly, he wrote, he kept all the letters they had written and looked forward to returning in future to the grandchildren.
This week, after re-reading this magical book I dug out the letters my own children sent to Father Christmas, some of them soot-stained because they’d been up the chimney. This nostalgic indulgence helps keep me on track when Christmas threatens to be just another holiday period with people spending too much money, eating for Ireland and shops telling me they don’t sell cranberries anymore as people prefer to buy ready-made sauce. I leave making my cranberry sauce until Christmas morning as I love that aroma of sauce, heavily laced with port, filling the kitchen.
All is not lost, of course, the grandchildren will be arriving today and every Irish festive tradition will be played out during their visit. After all, their father used to love Christmas and visits from Santa. My European born daughter-in-law has no particular Christmas tradition but on sampling her first Irish Christmas she came back for more. Christmas is no big deal where they live, all the more reason why I want my grandchildren to have memories of a magical time just like the Tolkien family.