Sunday, 29 November 2015

Advent crowns

We're currently driving to Highgate from Aylesbury where we've just spent the most wonderful time with friends.

I'm proud to say that the day was my idea. Some of my happiest childhood memories deal with the magical run-up to Christmas. It was the period when all the carol concerts and school plays happened. We'd stay at school into the evenings to practice and then walk home excitedly in the dark, icy, wood-smoke filled air.

One of my favourite customs was the creation of a crown on the first advent. My family aren't at all religious, but this was the one semi-religious tradition we upheld. The four advents are obviously the four Sundays running up to Christmas, and in our house they were marked by four big meals when we'd eat a fancy roast dinner.

During the morning of the first advent, we'd go for a long walk to work up an appetite and to forage for berries, bits of holly, ivy and moss to weave into a crown shape which we'd then use as the setting for four red candles. Whilst we ate on the first advent, the first candle would be lit, on the second advent we'd relight the first candle and light a second candle to join it... and so on so, until, when we tucked into our meal on the fourth advent, all four candles would be merrily spluttering away. I believe it was a tradition my Mother brought back from Germany with her...

Obviously, with no children of my own, I've never been able to pass on some of those special childhood traditions... But then I realised that I have God children for this very reason, so I got Raily, Iain, Wils and Jeanie together along with Mezza and Elizabeth, Nathan, Hils and little Jago and we all went for a foraging walk on Coombe Hill in the bracing wind.

The forecast was dreadful, and actually, as we drove towards our destination it was raining solidly. Strangely enough, however, despite a dire forecast, the rain suddenly stopped, and we were able to walk for two hours without getting wet.

The wind was hysterical. We walked to a monument where the views over Buckinghamshire are staggering, but the wind on many occasions was strong enough to knock young Jago off his feet. You couldn't put a bag down because it would immediately be blown away. We stood for some time leaning into the wind, at moments our entire bodies were kept upright.

William and I went off the beaten track for a while and got chased by about forty cows, which was a bit weird. I think they thought my Sainsbury's bag full of undergrowth was food for them, but we certainly weren't prepared to hang around to find out if they were just being friendly!

We reached the car park just as it started to rain, and drove back to Iain and Raily's house where we sat around the sitting room table assembling our crowns in a sort of magical production line. "Does anyone have a use for this little berry?" "Has anyone got any glitter?" Fabulous. I recommend it for anyone reading this, even if you're doing it on your own. Tomorrow is the first advent, so you have a whole day to buy four candles and take yourself out into the big wide world. If you don't fancy doing it with greenery, get a bit of tinsel and some baubles like they used to do on Blue Peter!

On that note, I was horrified to mention Blue Peter today and find that my godson, William didn't know what I was talking about! How things change. Blue Peter is an institution.

After making the crowns we sat down for a fabulous meal before gathering around the piano to sing carols in three-part harmony, which created a really rather lovely and quite moving moment.

We sat in front of the open fire chatting, laughing and drinking tea until 11.30pm, before begrudgingly making our way back to London.

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