As a child we often spent Christmas in Wales. My Welsh grandparents lived in Brecon, a delightful town which still retains all its old charm and well worth a visit. They had a small house, and at the time in question even had outside ‘facilities’! We would travel down from Surrey via the A4 and the A40, through Abergavenny and Crickhowell and the journey would take hours. Literally a whole day. Speeds would rarely be above 30mph, and it was very tiring for small children. We would be so excited to see Tretower Castle as it would mean that we were nearly there, although there were still several miles to travel. And so, finally, we would arrive to a hot meal and a house warmed by a coal fire and range in which the meal had been cooked. The kettle would hang over the fire and was always on the boil, ready for tea. Grandparents delighted to see us, and us, although pleased to be there, really ready for bed and needing to sleep.
And so it was the particular Christmas that I have in mind. We arrived and there was the tree in the corner, bedecked as usual with the traditional family baubles and of course some tinsel. No fairy lights, but there were candles and little gifts hanging and scattered beneath. Before long my brother and I were tucked up in bed, all cosy under a beautiful Welsh quilt that unfortunately is now long gone. The journey had made us very tired, so we slept soundly, completely missing the sound of Rudolph’s hooves as he landed on the roof, and how Santa got down that chimney with the fire still burning in the grate I really don’t know, but he managed it, and before long it was Christmas morning.
It was very quiet. There were sounds downstairs, but the coutryside had a different feel about it, and the light was so bright. We both crept down the twisted staircase to find the adults up and busying themselves. What a shock! There had been a snowfall overnight. The snow was at least halfway up the door and it was impossible to get out either at the front or the back. As already mentioned the ‘facilities’ were not inside, so it was essential to dig a way out as soon as possible. My father and mother did this, and fortunately it wasn’t far. I don’t remember if the water was frozen, but it wouldn’t surprise me. We huddled around the range for breakfast, and then we were allowed to open some of our gifts. The funny thing is that I don’t remember what mine were. I do remember, however, that my brother had a set of lorries, all in green and red. He lay on the floor and played with them for hours. At some point during the day I was allowed to use my grandmother’s treddle sewing machine. This was an especial treat, and I’m sure that in this lie the seeds of my love of machine embroidery.
It was a happy time. One of the few Christmas Day memories that I have of us all being together. Shortly after this my father was promoted and from then on always had to work on Christmas Day. Although our celebrations were always happy they were disjointed, him leaving home at 6am and often not back until 9pm at night. We would have presents, but our real celebration would be a couple of days later when he was home all day and everyone would gather. Our trips to Wales for Christmas ceased too. Grandparents had to travel to us. They came by coach and we always collected them at Reading bus station. I used to wonder what happened to the range when they were away. Did it look after itself? Did Rudolph still call with Santa and find no-one at home? Who knows.
Happy Christmas, friends, whether you celebrate or not. However, somewhere in the midst of all your hustle and bustle please try to remember at some point that Jesus is the reason for the season.