Thursday, 16 December 2010

A Joyous Advent

Wake, o wake! with tidings thrilling
    The watchmen all the air are filling,
        Arise, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight strikes! no more delaying,
"The hour has come!" we hear them saying.

Life has been full of the joy of advent lately. For all people may grumble about Christmas being celebrated early, really we are all celebrating in anticipation of the day. And, at least in my household, we won't stop celebrating until Ukrainian Christmas has come and gone.

Our tree, complete with homemade tinfoil star.

As much as I would love to be home for Christmas (and I really would), it is lovely to be in another country at Christmastime in order to experience new Christmas traditions. Most of the English people I've met love any excuse to drink & eat and December has ample opportunity for that with Christmas Jollies and dinners. My weeks have been full of mince pie, mulled wine, Christmas pudding, roast chestnuts.... Oh yes, all these things are available in Canada, but they actually taste good in England! Our especial treat of the season is the Clare MCR Christmas Formal. It is so popular that it runs on two days and some of the alumni return for it. It begins with champagne in the MCR room, where everyone squeezes into a too-small-space and endeavours not to spill their champagne. Then we move to the dining hall for dinner. This year—broccoli & stilton soup; sea bass on a bed of brown lentils (with white wine); turkey with prune & apple stuffing, roast potatoes, and brussels sprouts (with red wine); Christmas pudding with brandy cream, minced pies & coffee & port. At the end of the meal there was carol singing. It was delightful.

Cambridge is beautiful at this time of year. The old buildings are strung with lights and the downtown looks like a scene from a Victorian Christmas card. Frost has come thick with the cold snap, highlighting all of nature in white relief, and occasionally one can glimpse a solitary moorhen cautiously treading the ice-covered ditch by its nest. The streets are full of music as charity fundraising carollers sing traditional English carols and Salvation Army bands bring a cheery brass note to the air.

Lights in the sitting room
Lights in the hallway
Cold nights provide a good excuse to stay indoors and keep warm. With fog hanging thick over the fens and darkness descending by 4:30 in the afternoon the time is right for ghost stories. David and I have been reading through a collection of Edwardian ghost stories, and one evening we went to a dramatic reading of two of M.R. James' tales. The setting was perfect—a medieval leper chapel. We sat in the chilly stone church, the bodies of dead spiders on the whitewashed stone walls, the darkness complete, the ghosts of dead lepers enviously pressing in on our healthy bodies, and were whisked away with tales strange & perilous.

Dave, hanger of lights.
This is also the time of year when I find myself increasing the number of dinner parties we throw. Normally we average one a month, but I can already count three (and then add to that the people who will pop by in an evening now and then for tea & cakes). Saturday past we had our non-Christmas-Christmastime-Dinner with two friends who will be with their families for the holidays. In honour of all things comfort I made a hearty, comfort-foody meal. Christmas Day will see a couple of the boys from our church joining us for dinner, and we have procured a fat goose in honour of the festivities. Then, for a couple of friends I couldn't catch before Christmas, we'll be opening our Ukrainian Christmas celebrations to a wider audience than usual (if I can convince David to share his cabbage rolls). On top of that there is David's birthday meal at home (a feast of epic proportions, but just for the two of us) and David's birthday spectacular (an afternoon & evening in London, consisting of bookstores, good food, and a Christmas concert).

Can you spot the bagpiper? Back left!
The house is near bursting with presents and we couldn't even get around to putting our tree up until last night because I've been so busy being out with friends. Our tree looks a little more full than last year (perhaps the plastic branches are growing?) and David strung a string of brightly coloured lights through the hallway and sitting room to increase the festive air. The stores were sold out of chocolate advent calendars (the good brands, anyway) so we have a pop-up nativity scene advent calendar instead. Each night we add a new figure to it. It seems like the makers of it were perhaps lacking in characters to fill 24 days as, along with the expected animals/shepherds/wisemen we have also uncovered a surly looking inn-keeper and a character which appears, from costume and accessories, to be a Northumbian bagpiper! 100% Authentic. Thank you, Heffers.

Perhaps many of the details of this year are similar to last year (we are still in Cambridge, after all), but things feel even better this year. I don't have the same financial strain as last year, for one thing, and although I am sad I won't be home for Christmas it is not the first year away... as well, my mum is booking the tickets for the Wiebe English Tour this week and we will have a lovely Easter together this year. So instead I can focus on how nice it is to have my husband all to myself on Christmas day. As my wise husband always says, why focus on what you're missing and miss all the fun you could be having! 


  1. What a wonderful Advent for you both :) I think festivities in other places than home can seem more celebratory for their offerings of difference and immediacy, but perhaps it is more what one does with that experience self-reflexively as well as with community that makes it most revelatory! We are "home" for these holidays, and are hoping that they are restful and replenishing after a very stressful year.

    Also, we got your note--thanks--and wish you the joys of the season. (PS-The CD and games box were not from us, despite any claims of the contrary. Did you ever find out who it was, chuckle?)

  2. Delightful, LeAnna! Hardy-har-har on the Northumbrian bagpiper and surly inn-keeper! Beautiful lights! Well done, David! Love you both!

  3. No, we still haven't found out who the 'games' were from! I have my suspicions, but... there were a few gifts that were missing any sort of ID for the giver and so I guess it is a matter of just waiting for people to grumble that we never thanked them :)