Early in December I begin reading the annual round of much loved Christmas stories. Among them are the March girls delivering their Christmas breakfast to a hungry family and the Ingalls putting baked potatoes at their visitors feet to keep them from freezing on their sleigh ride home.
This year, I would like to give you the Tyler family Christmas as celebrated in 2010. I don't pretend we have the charm of the March or Ingalls families, but it is ours and I offer it to you with love.
There is nothing more magical than waking up to a world covered in snow. A reverential hush descends, footsteps are muted and activities are transformed to fit a new landscape of breath-taking beauty. But when show falls at Christmas, the world becomes a place of enchantment.
We live in the mountains and have been snowed in for some days. Mum, Dad and the dogs are trudging though the snow to meet the family. Cars cannot reach the farm and must be parked two miles down the hill. As people tumble out of their cars smiling and laughing, everyone is caught up in a bundle of hugs, kisses and happiness. We pile sledges high with luggage and presents and tramp back to the house singing Good King Wenceslas: the girls sing the part of the page and the boys take the King. As usual, we shout the last word in the line ‘heat was in the very sod’ and giggle like naughty children in a school assembly.
Eventually, we tumble into the house with cold noses and numb fingers, stamping life back into our feet. We stand in front of the wood burner and melted snow forms small pools on the rug.
The house has been transformed by Mum into a magical candle-lit wonderland with green boughs and twinkling tree lights. As we put the presents under the tree, Dad brings us mulled wine and Christmas has truly begun.
Christmas Eve ends with Mum reading aloud Lucy and Tom’s Christmas by the light of the Christmas tree. Then we watch The Snowman followed by Father Christmas and we give our annual toast of thanks to Raymond Briggs. As we climb the stairs to bed, we sing a slightly raucous version of Father Blooming Christmas.
Silent Night. Soundlessly, the snow falls outside. Mum lies in bed happy to have her family gathered under the same roof for three deliciously precious nights.
Christmas morning dawns and the snow is deeper still. ‘Happy Christmas!’ echoes round the kitchen as we eat breakfast in front of the Aga. Then we bundle ourselves up to head out into the snow. The dogs chase us as we toboggan down the hills witnessed only by a few startled sheep. The kids perfect the technique of standing on sledges as they career down the slopes. Mum falls off and we all laugh as she staggers to her feet covered in snow. The sun is big and red, just like Lucy and Tom’s, and the camera catches the boys jumping over it and flying through the air like winter super heroes.
Back in the house, the piano and guitars accompany our carol singing. The song sheets are falling apart with age, but they are another tradition. At every exclamation mark we slap our thighs; an unmerited capital letter has us standing up and quickly sitting again. What we lack in piety, we make up for with laughter. We finish, as we do every year, with Mum’s favourite, O Come all ye Faithful. As always, Mum sheds a tear of happiness.
Then, we put on our wellies and venture outside again to see who can pop the bubbly cork the furthest. This year one cork goes out of sight and we suspect it lands two fields away – a family record.
We hurry back into the house for present-opening. The youngest passes a present out from under the tree and the recipient opens it carefully – no paper-ripping in our home – while everyone watches and comments. It takes a while, but no one is in a hurry.
Lunch is mid afternoon. We all eat brussel sprouts not because we like them, but because it’s tradition. The wishbone is pulled and someone gets a wish. Afterwards the oldies are sent to doze by the fire while the youngsters clear away, and by the time they join Mum and Dad night has fallen.
Darkness once more transforms our home into a mystical wonderland and the games begin. They are noisy and boisterous and competitive. Merriment is the key component and we laugh until our sides ache.
Bed is late. Mum and Dad go first and youngsters stay downstairs savouring the company of their siblings. Games from their youth are played and no one notices what time they finally troop up to bed.
Boxing Day is quieter. We walk the snowy hills and try out a new camera. In the evening we watch a film, but it takes ages because we keep stopping to talk, tell a story or make a joke.
After a late and very long breakfast the following morning, we pile up the sledges with bags and suitcases and trudge back to the cars. Mum hides her tears as her children drive away. She watches and waves until they are long out of sight.
Christmas is over, but the memories remain.”