One of my recurring nightmares is missing Christmas. When I am under intense stress and feel like I am losing control of my life, I start dreaming that, somehow or other, I’ve overslept, miscalculated the dates, forgot to look at the calendar, or simply got stuck at work, and Christmas has passed me by. And I get very upset. I love Christmas. For about two weeks of the year. This year, however, I am resenting the seasonal bullying which kicked in minutes after Hallowe’en. I find myself cowering under its aggressiveness and wishing I could hide in a dark corner where I could fall asleep until Twelfth Night.
It’s four o’clock and, having worked on my translations since about six, I feel the justification – and the necessity – to get some air. Also, there is something I want to buy.
The first shop I enter tells me they’ve sold out. I have more luck in the hardware store down the street. I buy a box of twenty. I want coloured ones, this year. For the past twelve Christmases, I have used white ones. I want coloured ones, because I want to trust in their brilliant hues against the dark green leaves.
In every shop, there are representations of Santa Claus. An old man with flushed cheeks, paunch, bright red costume and vacant eyes, and who seems capable of uttering the monosyllabic "Ho! Ho! Ho!" My heart sinks.
Keep that Santa Claus.
Instead, give me a Father Frost – a Sir Christèmas – with a knowing face, and a cloak like the earth – green and brown and gold, glistening with icicles and embroidered with frost patterns. A shapeshifter with hazel eyes and the arcane knowledge of Merlin, who knows words to move the elements, spells and incantations; who's as old and wise as the earth. A winter Green Man whose silver hair will grow dark again, and pale skin will catch the sun, on the morning of the Spring Equinox.
I pull the box of Christmas CDs from under the bed. Bing Crosby and the rest of the Fellowship of Crooners. No. I cannot abide the saccharine this year. I take out a recording of Mediaeval carols, conducted by Andrew Parrott. Songs full of mystery, hope and awe. I pull my purchase out of its box, and disentangle the long, twisted green wire. I cannot face taking out my miniature Christmas tree, this year. Instead, I arrange the string of fairy lights over the fine branches of my droopy ficus plant. It belonged to a Bahamian friend I knew in Cambridge, thirty years ago. She gave me the ficus plant when she moved back to the Bahamas and so, for the past three decades, it has travelled with me from Cambridge to London, from flat to flat. I plug in the lights and a constellation of blues, greens, reds, yellows and pinks – like a comet’s tail – trickles down the dark green foliage. I want to trust in their brilliant, joyful hues and the promise they make me.
Trust. Christmas is about trust. Trust that magic exists. Trust that goodwill and love truly exist. Trust that words will be kept and intentions carried out. Trust that all will be well. After all, isn’t Winter all about trust? Trust that beneath the frozen, hard earth bright green shoots are sprouting, even though we will not see them for months, yet. Trust that the cold and bleakness will eventually give way to sunshine and blossoms. Trust that, next year, things will be better. Trust, though at times, you feel you have little evidence to fuel your hopes. And trust is about waiting. Waiting patiently.
The branches of the oak tree outside my window are bare. I strain to remember the luxuriating glossy green foliage that dressed it not three months ago. I strain to imagine tiny green buds sprouting on it once more. But I must wait and trust. Wait for the tree to be ready and trust that it will be.
I pour a few drops of pine needle and rosemary essential oil into the pottery burner, and put peel of an orange on the radiator. Their scents mingle and fill the room with Yuletide. It’s evening, and I light the red Advent candle on my table. I sit in the armchair by the window. Up in the sky, the Moon has a soft glow and a deeply sympathetic expression. Her beams are washing over the dark branches of my oak tree. I understand, she seems to whisper, trusting is hard, but do trust – all will be well. I catch a glimpse of something at the foot of the oak. I look down and meet the amber gaze of a fox. His eyes catch the headlights of a passing car. He shudders, cowers, but then straightens up and looks up at my window again. The Moon is speaking the truth, he seems to say. He looks peeved with my doubts. Trust, his eyes command. In their glint, I see something ancient and arcane. Suddenly, the fox is a fox no more, but a tall figure standing against the trunk of the oak. I blink and it’s vanished. Once again, the fox is staring up at me and his eyes are merry and wise. I stare back. For a fraction of a second, I thought he’d turned into a tall man with a knowing face and a cloak like the earth – green and brown and gold, glistening with icicles and embroidered with frost patterns.
I will trust, I reply. I do trust.