A Whirlwind by Camille de Fleurville
A whirlwind. A turmoil. Laughs and plays. Whispered secrets. Doors quickly shut with a swish and a smile. Christmas has always been a time of waiting and of joy. A time of recollection as well. A time of night that slowly rises into dawn, from dark blue through purple, mauve, pink and, suddenly, gold. And then, an enchanted week when all stops and it seems that time stretches to welcome love and peace.
This is how we lived Christmas at home. And this is how I live it still. Wherever I have been living, there has been these feelings and this atmosphere.
It is probably due to the fact that we are Roman Catholics and that we follow the liturgical season. Advent begins with the first Sunday in Advent and the first lighted candle – a dark blue or very dark purple one, followed by a lighter purple one, a pink one for the Third Sunday of Joy, a very light purple one for the Fourth Sunday and the white one for Christmas, after Midnight Mass.
Time before Christmas is almost as joyful as Christmas itself. There are preparations to be made: wreaths for the outside doors and inside, in the main rooms; the fir tree – if we are in the country, the tree is planted in the garden afterwards -; the nativity scene without the crib, which will be put after Midnight Mass by the youngest member of the family, while the others will sing a French carol.
Of course, there are the presents. We, children, have always known that Father and Mother gave us the toys or games or books we found under the tree on Christmas morning. And we have always made presents for them and for brothers and sisters as well. No Santa Claus at home. In fact, we all brought our presents and put them under the tree after Midnight Mass to be open the morning after in a confusion of delight, laughs and hugs.
Before Christmas, there is also the Advent Calendar with its little windows open one by one every day, and the lights behind to see as in a stained glass window the drawing on the thin sheet of paper. And we are busy with decorating the main rooms: ribbon bows, garlands and wreaths, candles, postcards in display with music filling the place with carols, Bach Weinachtsoratorium, Händel Messiah, and other favourites.
Advent is punctuated by little feasts we picked up either from family tradition or from the places where we lived. Saint Andrew on November, 30th starts all. He comes from Scotland by a grand-mother. Then comes Saint Nicolas, on December, 6th, from Father’s family who lives in the East of France. On the 13th of December, we celebrate Sankt Lucia from Sweden where we lived some time (and we have a great-aunt called Lucy). And last, but not least for me, on the 24th of December, it is my birthday, slightly forgotten on Christmas Eve, but celebrated quand même. After Christmas we have added Boxing Day on the 26th from Mother’s family in the UK, Saint John on the 27th for Father, whose name is John, etc. It is a long list of celebrations.
As we followed Father in his various diplomatic posts, we followed the customs of the country we were living in. The most fascinating Christmas I remember was one we spent in Florida. The winter before we were in Sweden in the cold and the snow, and there we were, bathing in a green translucent ocean with a beach of pounded white coral for sand, palm trees decorated with plastic and lighted garlands, and a full waterfall of poinsettias, red, white and green. Nothing to remind us of our Northern Christmases and a taste of the universal Christmas. We were to know later that it may rain for Christmas in Rome and it is colder than in Oslo. We spent sunny days in Northern Africa, snowy ones in Vienna and Moscow, cosy ones in London.
But the most beloved Christmases were neither abroad nor even in Paris but in the house from which I write today: Mother’s house in the country in the South West of France, which is mine now.
Perhaps because we have been often uprooted, we needed (and I like) to spend the end of the year “at home”. It is a rather severe and classic house from the 17th century, a “folly” that replaced the old fortified castle dismantled earlier, the ruins of which still stand higher on the hill. But the house has this comfortable feeling of having been lived in for a long time, with snugness and disorder. Today that the family has exploded in a myriad of other families around my married brothers, that Mother is dead, and that I am alone with my young sister and a cousin, both disabled, the house still smells of gingerbread and mince pies, of spices, Christmas pudding, fir tree, wreaths made with holly, ivy, late branches with leaves and berries. There is still the Advent Calendar on the dining room side board, the sound of carols, Weinachtsoratorium and Messiah, films to be watched during the long enchanted week, ribbons, postcards, presents, the Nativity scene without the crib, flowers to be ordered at the florist’s and gathered on the 24th. The little church will be prepared with the village ladies among gossip and laughs. Candles are lighted. And when we come back from the Midnight Mass, I shall give us piping hot tea or chocolate to warm us. Then my sister will bring a bag loaded with presents, small and bigger, sometimes handmade, and she will mimic the deep voice of an old man with heavy footing, saying: “C’est moi le Père Noël!” and we shall dispatch these presents over our shoes or under the socks hung near the tree. Later when they are both in bed, I shall add oranges, nuts, clementines and sweets.
Meanwhile, it is a whirlwind, a turmoil, laughs and plays, whispered secrets, doors quickly shut with a swish and a smile. Christmas is always a time of waiting, of recollection and of joy.
About the Author:
Member of a large family of brothers, after living with globe-trotters diplomat parents, I am now living quietly in a family house in the South West of France with my two mentally disabled wards – my young sister and a cousin, known as “The Girls” – and we form “The Little Family”. I love books, classical music, singing, reading, writing, and am not as handy with householding and gardening! I am French but started to write in Engllish for English-speaking friends in my blog http://camilledefleurville.blogspot.fr/, also called “Sketches and vignettes from la Dordogne”. Perhaps one day, I shall feelconfident enough to let the same friends read the short stories I am writing.