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T'was The Night Before Christmas

December 18, 2019

T'was The Night Before Christmas

Every Christmas our Vicar holds a drinks party for those who have served on committees that help him and as I’m on the Church Fete committee yours truly got invited.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when you’re invited anywhere there’s always an element of “singing for your supper”. You can’t go to these things and be a boring fart, you have to mingle, you have to speak to new people and you need to drag out any interesting stories you have to amuse.

Well, amuse is a loose term.  Offend is very possible as well with my stories.

The first person I saw was a woman whose Christmas card list I am definitely not on.

“Oh, it’s YOU,” she said before moving on.

“And a Happy Christmas to you!” I said with cheery voice and heart. It’s a bit like having your own troll in the village but you can’t let these things get to you, not at Christmas.

Spying a more festive welcome, I greet a couple who are genuine village stalwarts.

Another chap joins us but after a few minutes there’s a definite “fug” in the air. Everyone carries on but it’s as bad as my dog on his worst day. I’m having to breathe through my mouth so I man up, down my glass in one (it’s only water) and state that I’m off for a refill, fighting my way to the open kitchen door, nearly fainting from holding my breath and gulp in the fresh air.

In the meantime, Jane has arrived.

Jane refuses to be on any committees because she doesn’t want consensus, she wants things done her way which, to be fair, she recognises isn’t the point of committees.

Jane was last seen by me in September wearing gold hot pants, black tights and a beret. Every year, after the summer church fete, those who work the “boutique” tent – yes we have had people give their used underwear to this stand - are chosen an outfit by another helper (a bit like Secret Santa, but more vicious), which we then have to wear on a three-course meal, each course at a different person’s house forcing us to walk around the village looking very silly.

Anyway, back to Jane.

She revealed that for the past few years she has gifted Kirsty Allsop-esque presents to friends in the village that she has personally hand crafted but this year will be her last. She hesitates and then says, “That’s a lie, this year I haven’t made them, I’ve bought them all.”

“How come I’ve never had one?”

“Haven’t you?” She’s looking airily around as though she’s just seen someone far more interesting. To be fair, she probably has. “Well I’ve got some blackcurrants in gin…you could have those.”

“I’ll trade the blackcurrants in gin for my home made cranberry sauce.”

The deal is struck and suddenly, my kitchen disaster (too sour, needs more sugar) is a trading asset.

Sue then arrives.

Sue is a top bird from Yorkshire, forced into Southern Softy-land as a result of her children moving down this way.

“What’s going on?” She’s suspicious that something fun is happening without her.

“We’re trading. I’ve secured the blackcurrants in gin while offloading my sour cranberry sauce.” Sue knows all about the blackcurrants in gin. Sue’s already received hers as part of the first wave of gift-ees whereas I wasn’t even on the Z-list.

“We could have a drinks party in the summer, load the glasses with this stuff (not the cranberry) and top up with fizz,” I suggest.

Jane and Sue’s eyes light up and in reverential tones as they say,

“We could have a Sparkle Party.”

Jane is the creator of Sparkle Parties in the village. They’re female-only party combinations of sparkly clothes, fizz and getting “sparkled” which is a nicer term than “pissed”.

“I’ve got a fabulous sequin dress I can wear,” Sue chips in. “I bought it in the Fenwick sale last year. I tried it on with Ugg boots, long socks and the bobble hat I was wearing. I asked the assistant what she thought. She looked me up and down, in the way that some young people have when asked for fashion advice to those in their seventies, then sighed, “well, I suppose IF you’ve got a party to go to…”

I leave them planning the Sparkle Party, and wander off to find another group of friends. They’re discussing what their kids left out for Santa in years gone by. The consensus these days is mince pie, milk for Rudolph and a Whisky Chaser. Santa’s clearly upped his game, but my friend Lavinia, whose husband is known for being his own man, pipes up:

“My sons went to a Christmas Party one year and were asked by Santa what they would leave out for him. They said Santa always had Shepherd’s Pie, a large Gin & Tonic and a bottle of red wine. Santa said that sounded much nicer than mince pies but my boys were gutted that they had got it wrong!”  Not for her husband, they hadn't.

As we’re standing talking the fug is back and we all look suspiciously at each other wondering who has done the deed. I down my drink and make some lame excuse to go back to the kitchen. Again.

On the way there I’m collared by the Vicar and emerge from the conversation one Christmas pudding up and a further jar of the cranberry sauce down.

I meet a wine merchant newly moved to the village. I tell him that I’m a wine blender having just topped up someone else from two very different bottles in the kitchen, because there were just bits left.  No one seemed to mind and they drank it, which is surely the object of blending wine, to create a drinkable concoction. I ask him if he’s doing 25% off six bottles (à la Tesco or Sainsbury’s). He’s very quick to say he only does wholesale, never has a bottle spare, nothing to see at his house, move on.

I go to say my goodbyes and the fug is still there. It’s like my dog has eaten a dead rodent and got tummy trouble for his efforts and then I look down and see the Vicar’s dog, under the table hoovering up all the nibbles that people drop. That’ll be that then. I drop some ham on the floor – he’s a good dog.

Sitting in my car I'm waiting for the one in front to be moved by Sue’s husband who comes out twice to tell me he’s lost his keys and his coat.   He’s been assured they will surface soon but there’s been talk of a conga starting and Vicar's trying to quell that before they can resume the hunt, so I start to think about how much I didn’t really want to come out because it’s so much easier to stay at home.

But here’s the thing, if you don’t come out, you don’t get adventures and it was lovely to have those silly, inane conversations with people who work alongside me to make our little community a bit better each year and seeing that they are all okay, that they are well.

For me, Christmas isn’t about the gifts (although the blackcurrants in gin might be nice, I’ll let you know after the Sparkle Party) the decorations or the food. At Christmas the sharp concentration of meals, drinks, parties and Boxing Day walks into a very short space of time is really about checking in with those we love, family and friends, making sure they’re okay, that the year hasn’t been too hard on them, that they are well, that they know they are loved. Life is tough and we don’t have to look as far as the streets to see that. A friend’s father is very ill in hospital and likely to not come out. A friend has lost her house and her life is in financial ruin. Another friend cries herself to sleep for lack of someone to share her life with. My good friend is in a hospice this Christmas and we all know it will be her last.

So, while we’re saving the planet by not giving Christmas cards and we’re all saying that we’re donating to charities instead, let’s do something really close to home. Just pick the phone up, don’t text, call and check in with your friends, that they’re okay, that they know you love them and that if you can, you’d do anything to help them. That really is a gift to give this year.

Happy Christmas.



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