MY first Christmas in Las Molieres and France was one of my happiest ever – and that’s saying something, since I truly believe I have never had a bad one. I wouldn’t allow it. Nothing – nothing – will ever change my still childlike belief in the magic of Noel and the glorious feeling of joy and optimism on the morning of December 25.
Even if this year I have no sweetscented tree (impossible with Cesar) and the hall isn’t bedecked with boughs of holly, I’m still anticipating Christmas Eve and Day with little flickers of excitement.
Sadly, I cannot fly at the moment, so will not be with my son and my grandchild. But thanks to the glory of the internet we will see each other in the new form of real time and raise our glasses as one.
I’m thrilled to watch from a distance to see that my son has inherited the sparkle dust and put up his enormous tree while quietly getting sozzled as Mario booms out in the background.
It’s true: the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, particularly the Christmas tree, and I draw pleasure from the thought, God willing, of this continuing generation after generation.
My mother, however cash strapped as a young widow, daily cranked up the excitement to come and hid Santa’s presents with the cunning of a secret agent.
I was 10 before I discovered he didn’t exist and even now I don’t believe that’s true.
She blessed each day in the run-up with her enthusiasm, and had set aside money at the newsagent’s each week to pay for the pile of annuals so lovingly wrapped under the tree.
Even now, I can smell the newness and feel the glossy paper and remember the lurch in my stomach at the thought of all the reading to come.
And I can smell the capon – more than enough for two – and hear the sizzle of the roast potatoes as she danced around the kitchen.
Obviously we’d been to midnight Mass, wrapped in scarves and hats against the icy blasts in the packed church, and I’d watched in awe as the plaster baby Jesus was carried through to his crib.
We sang out with such innocence then, with no awareness of what was to come in our beloved Church. Even the faces of the stumbling drunks who’d found their way to the back shone with grace on this night.
And, much later, at far ends of the table, a tablescape lovingly created of a winter’s scene between us, we toasted each other before the bird was brought out.
I was allowed, after 10 years old, a small sherry and – unthinkable now– a cigarette to ape her sophistication.
Afterwards we went our separate ways, each to lie or recline before the fire, books in hand, raising our heads to smile at each other every so often.
Oof … Writing that catapults me back to those moments with a surreal intensity. I see her face, then young, so clearly, that tears rise unbidden.
What a gift to give to a child. What a gift to give to all our children. To give ourselves and to give our being to those we love.
Right – sniff – where was I? Ah yes, my first Christmas here.
I had two of my dearest friends and my son, and I was about to give a Boxing Day party for all my new neighbours, my house workmen and those Brits I’d met. I’d bought into the French tradition of Reveillon de Noel and had a most disgusting pile of seafood in place on Christmas Eve. I swear some of it was alive and kicking off the plate.
My guests were close to vomiting but I told them: it’s effing French. Bloody eat it.
We sang, we danced and were too drunk for midnight Mass. Instead we lay on sunbeds and watched the stars, all of us wrapped in scarves and hats as once I’d been as a child. Another sacrament. So much wonder. And then the septic tank exploded in the bath as my female friend prepared to enter, clutching champagne and singing, as I insist every Christmas, the carol Joy to the World.
But it brought me Pierrot, my neighbour and helpmate all these years on. So? Silver, sort of, lining. There is always a silver lining.
It matters little now that since then the couple divorced, the child has created his own family and I have railed and kicked against the many travails that have brought me low here.
That is bloody life. That is how it is. It can be tough. It can be seemingly unfair and cruel. We all learn this in the hardest of ways. Oh, but the fun, the excitement, the joy, the utter madness of simply stuttering on. And being so grateful to do so. Others have it far harder.
And so, here I am, another Christmas, another year. Thank you God.
Outside the trees are bending in the wind; it is cold and raining hard.
But inside, my house is warm. There is food. There is light. And there is the joy of hope. Always, always … hope. Joyeux Noel, mes amis.