This Sunday was Floss's third Pause in Advent, and I am now taking a pause from my partying to address the issue.
No, there wasn't a party in the polytunnel, unfortunately, but yes, the party frock and the two-dollar earrings had an outing, Pomona's cottage is looking quite festive, and has been the scene of festivities, too. It might have been grey outside, but inside was a warm glow of bonhomie and candlelight and firelight in spite of winds blowing ENE.
The first Christmas lunch of the season has been cooked, and the Head Chef and I were the proud producers of it all. I am sorry that I only took a picture of the parsnips, but the carrots, cabbage, garlic, onions, squash and potatoes were all homegrown and delicious. And the pork, of course, but I would rather not dwell on that. My dearest Head Chef excelled himself on the culinary front, and we realized that it is a big mistake to send two teenage boys out shopping for supplies unaccompanied by a ten-year-old who understands the gravity of domestic issues in a supervisory role.
We haven't decked the hall with boughs of holly quite yet, because the holly is still drying out next to the Aga, having been soaked and battered by torrential rain and hail today (hence the welly chic), but presents have been wrapped and decorations arrayed about the house.
And I have been thinking further along the line of presents, under the influence of the eminent Professor Waldfogel, and before I present you with a little Advent reading upon which you may meditate at your leisure, I will also present you with a little Scroogenomic disquisition.
The Professor's little book, as befits one by an economist, goes into great detail regarding his research as to the actual value of presents to the receiver, as opposed to the price paid by the giver. According to him, although a present given by someone close to you is likely to hold 90% or so of the monetary value, there is generally some loss in value.
So I thought about all the presents I had received over the years, which merge together in a stream of forgetfulness, and one or two stand out particularly, presents which I still have, presents which hold a value surpassing all things monetary, and where I to this day remember the occasion when I was given them.
And for those of you anxiously searching for the perfect present, I must tell you that neither was bought particularly for me, the giver gave something of herself as she passed these artefacts on to me, and one of them was handmade, and quite imperfectly so.
One of these most special presents is my grandmother's cotton reel holder: at our last Christmas together, when she knew that she was gravely ill, my official present was my Cath Kidston workbox, which I had chosen for myself. Then, almost as an afterthought, she sent me upstairs to a distant and dusty cupboard, a repository for a miscellany of disused objects, to find the cotton reel carousel, saying that I might as well have it, for I would be sure to make use of it. So its value resides in the poignancy of the memories associated with it, and my relationship with the giver, and this simple object symbolizes both what came before and what followed the giving of this gift.
I had always been fascinated by these denizens of old ladies' windowsills from my childhood, and had always wished for one, but had never ever seen one in a shop. So it was also a gift that money could not buy; it remains one of my most precious possessions, and I am always using it. For the economists amongst you, the value created by this present is way beyond any possible purchase price, and so the world is a better place for that gift. My only wish that modern cotton reels would fit on those brass spool holders - will I one day use up all those cottons, and such a useful object become merely ornamental?
I will save the sight of my other special presents for another day, and give you, dear readers, a special present of your own in this little collection of words, words which have been special to me since I was nine years old, and won the Library Prize at school. Some things never change: this was for the person who had borrowed the most books from the library, and I think I am still in the running for the Library Prize.
My prize was a book called Take Joy by Tasha Tudor, a beautifully illustrated collection of Christmas stories and poems and carols, which also described the impossibly idyllic Christmas celebrations of her family in rural America, all unimaginably talented and creative, and I dreamed of being an inmate of that roseate and glowing domestic circle. It is a book now out of print and long-gone from bookshelves, but remains in my memory in a nostalgic glow of Christmas past.
Somehow Christmas in England in the 1970s could never quite live up to that snow-filled, hearth-glowing, candlelit dream of a celebration, but the words which gave the title to the book are a piece of wisdom that I have remembered and rewritten over the years, and a lesson for all of us yearning for perfection and dreaming of somewhere over the rainbow.
Princess Bunchy and I have been discussing the meaning of these words for us but following Floss's example this weekend, I will merely present you with the words as they stand, and leave you to look into your own heart and find your own meaning. And perhaps they may make your own shadows flee away - I hope so.
I salute you!
There is nothing that I can give you which you have not;
but there is much, that, while I cannot give, you can take.
No heaven can come to us,
unless our hearts find rest in it today.
No peace lies in the future,
which is not hidden in this present instant.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow;
behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you,
with the prayer that for you, now and forever,
the day breaks and the shadows flee away.
Fra Giovanni (1513)