The village harbour Christmas lights


The Sense of Christmas

There is no other time of year when our senses are stimulated more than at Christmas. There's a physical, sensory response, triggered, if you're lucky, from memories and recollections of warmth and happiness, that is intensified by this time of year. Certain tastes, smells and sights are programmed to respond to a switch marked '25th December'.

One of my earliest memories from childhood was a whispered question from my little sister, "Has he been yet?'. We shared a bedroom, and if you're thinking did they have ice on the inside of the window back in those days; yes, we did! Our gifts were delivered to the end of our beds in a pillow case. Hardly daring to breath, let alone open our eyes, the anticipation of "had he been yet", was so scarily exciting, he could hear our hearts beat. Wiggling toes probed the covers, feeling for the weight of presents. Our family 'rule' was as soon as we heard the radio playing carols from our parent's 'Teasmade', we'd piled onto their bed and empty the pillow cases of tantalising shapes and sizes - soft, squidgy ones for squeezing, wrapped boxes for shaking, all begging for the pretty paper to be ripped off as oranges rolled under the bed and chocolate money foil scattered across the floor like golden pellets.

The taste and smells of Christmas are like those of no other time of year. Spices from exotic places; cinnamon, clove and nutmeg percolating from rich, fruit-filled, brandy-soaked cakes and puddings, roasting turkey and stuffing, sprouts and parsnips. Intoxicatingly warm scents of candles and clean, sharp conifers; tangerines and chestnuts roasting on an open fire... wait a minute, that's not true, I'm getting carried away! It's interesting when we say, "It smells like Christmas"; we wouldn't say, "It smells likes Easter', other than it being chocolatey, the smells and tastes brings us together as we all know exactly how Christmas smells.

There's also the sense of Christmas as a metaphysical state of awareness of an end and a beginning. The seasonal rituals begin as the winter solstice approaches; the darkest day on which the sun starts to regain energy that will climax at its midsummer zenith. We bring the light into our homes with tinsel and twinkling lights as relief from the darkness outside and greenery as a symbol of nature's regeneration.

Village harbour lights

The lights in the village generate a luminous glow into the opaque night, a glittering relief from the winter-blackness of empty cottages. The village sparkles into life with an illuminated cross, a pudding, bells, and because it's a fishing village, the outline of a trawler radiates from the lifeboat house wall, add to this an anchor, a couple of dancing dolphins and a loop of lights stretching round the curve of the beach, reflecting kaleidoscopic fractals of moving colour in the lacy fringe of the surf.

I'm not religious and whatever the origins of the winter festival are: pagan ritual or early Christians hi-jacking the Roman Saturnalia of feasting, drinking and making merry as an acceptable means of integrating the bible story to get their message over, I don't have to believe in mangers, Mary and the Magi to love the traditions of Christmas. I have been fortunate to have my family and friends and to wish and be wished peace and goodwill is a lovely sentiment.

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening......

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