DECEMBER - “Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it's beauty.” Albert Einstein

I start to write my December blog with sadness. No, it isn't a personal bereavement; it isn't the dire state of the country and it isn't the fear of Covid 19. Yes, we lost a much-loved member of our family this year - and old-friends too; the country is indeed in the proverbial pickle and the pandemic is a long way from being over and done with. But my tears stem from a story I have just read -  about the brutality of a group of killers. They didn't kill a human being. They killed an animal - and laughed. You don't expect to read this in my blogs but this month I cannot share the wonder of Christmas if I don't speak up for the natural world first. The world which is ours to cherish. I can hardly bear the pain when I find out about the wilful slaughter and destruction of living creatures and great swathes of this amazing planet. It falls to us to educate for compassion. But first I need to know what makes these destroyers tick. What has been missing from their lives that results in their cruel havoc? In trying to understand them, however, I shall waste no time in putting forward my own love for the natural world and my passion for enabling children with a sense of place and empathetic affinity. As an educator, I have been able to guide the young to think around what they experience and to make up their own minds about how they would like to see progression for their world. My daughters now teach and I find comfort from knowing they have their own place in the system. The children who benefit from their expertise will be the next stewards of this pained planet.

THE SNOW GLOBE PLAYS SILENT NIGHT AND WAS BOUGHT IN VIENNA - PROBABLY MY FAVOURITE CITY

Christmas is built on the story of a child - a baby who was born amongst the animals. Children and animals are at the mercy of grown human beings. Whatever your religious beliefs, history points to the cruel treatment of the grown-up Christmas Baby at the hands of his fellows. But, for now, we celebrate Christmas - his birth - the birth of Jesus. And we will have an amazing time! It won't be the same as before but we will put aside, at least for a little while, the events of 2020, and reflect on what is good in our lives - there is still so much kindness and understanding out there. If you make only one New Year's resolution for 2021, consider this as a possible option - seek out only those people with kind hearts and gentle voices - read about them, communicate with them, make friends with them - in your studies, in your daily exchanges and in your meditations and prayers.

THE CRIB WILL STAY HERE UNTIL CANDLEMAS (2ND FEBRUARY)


When I was growing up in the Isle of Axholme, I spent every Christmas Day at my grandparents' house. I absolutely loved it - but recently I discovered that my mum, now eighty nine, would sometimes have liked to have stayed at home. I just never thought of that in those days. My granny worked like a beaver to ensure we were all having a wonderful time, and I don't remember any cross words as she juggled pans with children around her. My grandfather's memories of Christmasses past seemed to glow around him as he soaked up the happiness of having his grandchildren fill the small cottage where he had lived as a boy.

Childhood Christmasses for me were full of love - love for the baby in Bethlehem, love for each other and love for the season itself. (Child of the Isle)

Years later, bringing up our family on a sparsely populated Scottish hillside, we began our celebrations early in December when we recorded a tape for Granny in England. We included songs and carols, poems, stories and Bible readings. As the years went by the children developed an Orcadian accent but we hadn't realised until we played the tapes back before posting them south! I suppose that was because I was then listening to them with Granny's ear!

After returning to Lincolnshire we were again able to share Christmas with our extended family. One of the highlights was visiting my aunt each Christmas Eve. We sang carols outside her door and weren't permitted over the threshold until we had sung "Away In A Manger". She was my wonderful grandparents rolled into one - such a joy to spend a part of Christmas with her - as it had been when all the family congregated at her parents' cottage all those years before.

Our two youngest went to my mum's for a weekend each December and she took them to do their Christmas shopping, overseeing them wrap up everything before coming home with their treasures. That was a special event for them both and I know they love the memory of those weekends.

Now we are back in the North of Scotland - in fact, the house we live in now is the house I have lived in the longest in my sixty seven years - and I have to say that it does brush up well for Christmas! This afternoon I am going to cut some holly, ivy, rosemary and bay to bring the garden indoors over Christmas. I'm not too happy with the window boxes at present - perhaps I'll add greenery to those too?

At the beginning of December, the lower temperatures felt warmer than on the preceding wet and windy days. I watched a sparrowhawk dip down and flash across the feeding station. It flew, from there, into one of the large maples. Everything went quiet and very still. It hadn't caught anything. I saw it bank over into next door's garden. I know they must eat, just like the rest of us have to refuel, but I don't like to lose my Little Blues. This season the Coal Tits have also joined us at number 53. They get on very sociably with the regulars and they are most welcome. The greenfinches are slowly devouring the cotoneaster berries. With the return of the mild weather, the birds are nothing like as hungry as I would expect them to be in December. On reflection, though, December is often disappointingly sluggish, with mud, rather than snow, making the footpaths hazardous.

Last Sunday was one of the darkest days I can remember - nothing to do with the virus or political shenanigans - I just don't remember a day with so little natural light. It seemed to be twilight all day long. The following days were better. I noticed daisies still flowering along the dog walk and two larger daisies flowering in front of the herbaceous border at home. Then we were back to a lower level of light again - this meant good hunting for owls and we were lucky enough to spot one as we walked Orlando. On another walk, down the hill into Wick, there was a welcome opportunity to watch swans and geese grazing in the fields and, beyond them, two horses galloping in the winter sunshine uplifted us even more.

Last week, on our walk by the river, we watched other birds - mallards, eiders and gulls and I saw a kestrel take off from a riverside tree. Someone walking his dogs told us that the resident otters had been spotted that day so we watched the ripples closely but no otters for these two ladies!

Winter brings  struggles and shortages but it has a curious stark charm. The skies are rarely silent when the geese are on the move and the feisty little reed bunting chelps at us as we stop to soak in the bronzed and beiged Caithness countryside. The rooks are shouting at each other from the treetops. This is our world and we owe it.

If we look up over the next few days we may see exciting happenings in our skies. Around the time of the Winter Solstice, Jupiter and Saturn, the gas giants, come close - the closest they've been since the thirteenth century - and will look like a star. Just before Christmas, the moon and Mars will be quite close too. Everyone in this family knows more than I do about these things - but I can appreciate the significance of them - and I think I might have followed the star to Bethlehem as long as I had back-up!

THE QUARANTINE BOX IS NEW FOR CHRISTMAS 2020!!


We all have favourite Christmas carols - I have a good many - too many to list - but one of my favourites is "The Holly And The Ivy".

When our Holly was a little girl and my Grandma Ivy was still living, I always fancied I would have a Christmas card designed with the two of them together and, inside, I would write:

The rising of the sun
and the running of the deer,
the playing of the merry organ,
sweet singing in the choir.

but I hadn't reckoned with mortality. time ran out.

The popular carol lists the characteristics of holly which make it so recognisable to us - the lily-white blossom, the blood-red berry, the thorn-sharp prickle and the bark which is "as bitter as any gall". (Child of the Earth)

We always have a holly bush in our garden and the one we enjoy now was left for us by the previous owner. It creeps along the ground and creates shelter for hunted little things. It's a variegated holly and, even though it doesn't have berries, it looks wonderful in a vase or amongst other greenery as part of a table decoration. You really don't need to spend money on table decorations at Christmas - a few sprigs of holly, some off-cuts from the Christmas tree and a bauble, or two, which would have been a little too much on the tree, swirled over with a pretty ribbon, will make a cheerful and personal centrepiece for the table or the mantelpiece. Nature to the rescue - again!

DECORATING DAY (12.12.20) - ALMOST FINISHED WITH THE TREE LOOKING RATHER FULL!!


This year is a different kind of Christmas. But what has changed? I still see and hear of little acts of Christmas kindness, the house is decorated as always at this time of the year, we're counting down to Christmas with our Advent calendar and the cards and presents-to-go have mostly been delivered. There are differences though. There will be no Christmas entertaining - no gloriously ridiculous homespun panto or table-football tournament with friends this year - no visit to the cinema for the Christmas film - no Midnight Mass - no Christmas quiz in the next village hall. Yet there are new things too. We shall meet up with  absent family members through Skype - may even watch our little granddaughter open her presents - and dear old friends have been in touch. What's not to like?

At number 53, our Christmas will be focussed on the nativity and, in the distance, a better world for every baby who has been born into it. 

The hips on the dog rose glow against the grey stone wall. Rubies. The piercing grey eye of the jackdaw shines sapphire-like as he scans the area for danger. Amongst the mosses and lichen are greys and greens with patches of intensity here and there. Emeralds. The only diamond necklace I'll ever want is a string of raindrops December-draped along the bare twigs in the hedgerow. (Child of the Earth)

With compassion it will be easy to put things right. My Christmas wish is that every man, woman and child will be given the opportunity to show compassion and that compassion will be shown to them - always. A very blessed and peaceful Christmas and a year ahead that is full of hope and kindness, Susan.

Comments

  1. A beautiful piece of writing, Susan. Uplifting in these different and difficult times. Looking forward to your 2021 blog. Best Wishes from Dotx

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Dot. So much observing to look forward to in 2021 - hope I can do it justice when I record it! xx

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