EVERY year, as Advent approaches, my husband and children seek cover. They know that I am an Advent fanatic, and that soon every available surface in the house will be covered with calendars, wreaths, Jesse trees, posadas, and candles of every description. Not chocolate calendars, though — that’s not what Advent is about, not in this house. As for the ones that contain gin, my goodness, the very idea.
I’ve turned into one of those people who tut as they walk around a supermarket. The Advent box in our garage is larger than the one marked “Christmas decs”; the latter, of course, does not make an appearance until 23 December, and only then because we are too busy with back-to-back crib services to squeeze decking the halls into Christmas Eve.
I spend the festive season scrolling through social media, growling, and shaking my head at every tree that goes up before the last week of Advent or comes down before Epiphany. As well as my passion for Advent, I suppose I am something of a Twelve Days of Christmas purist. Or grumpy old woman, as you may prefer to put it.
THE season of feasting is not yet on us, thankfully for myself and my husband; we’re both still carrying a little lockdown weight. Determined that the issue should not worsen during Lockdown Take Two, we promised each other a brisk daily walk. He gave me a pair of decent binoculars for my birthday, which he has now persuaded me to leave at home on these occasions, making the fair point that the walks are ineffective (and take three times as long) if I stop and stand still every five minutes to make sure that a wood pigeon is not a cleverly disguised hoopoe.
Of course, birds have their own rules concerning people who carry binoculars; so an outing with binoculars around my neck yields no interesting birds at all, whereas when I leave the house without them we are treated to a flypast from a squadron of golden eagles while being serenaded by nightingales. I exaggerate only slightly.
AS WELL as the walks, we are trying to watch what we eat, which has its own pitfalls. I’ve been weighing all my ingredients to estimate the number of calories in our meals — an exercise that somehow makes the final result of cooking much less appetising.
Then a parishioner, whose garden had yielded an unusually good harvest, gave us a sack of walnuts. When I say sack, I mean that my husband spent a long and happy evening of television cracking his way through barely a 16th of them, and then calculated that he must have consumed the calorie equivalent of a large second dinner. “I mustn’t keep eating them like that. What are we going to do with the rest of them?” he lamented.
“The only thing I know to do with walnuts is coffee and walnut cake,” I said.
“Ooh, perfect, you can cook with them! Sounds delicious.”
“Yes,” I said. “But then we would have a cake.”
Flights of fancy
MY DAUGHTER has announced that she would like to start a tradition of “Old-fashioned Tuesdays”: a weekly evening during which we don’t use electricity. I don’t know where she came across the idea (or why it should be Tuesdays), but, given her usual superglue-like adhesion to anything with a screen, this comes as a welcome surprise.
I am feeling slightly cautious, however, as I consider what alternative activities she may have in mind. It’s already well known in this house that Mummy is terrible at pretend play — I’m too much of a stickler for accuracy and realism — whereas my children have a tendency to make a zebra knock on the dolls’ house door, or march into a pretend bakery and demand to go swimming, leaving me floundering without a script.
I had a conversation about this with my daughter’s wonderful godmother, who seems to be able to play out energetic and ludicrous scenarios for hours, and she told me her secret: she uses her drama-improvisation training. “All you have to do is say yes to everything. Say yes, and then make it work,” she said.
SO, I have decided to make this my new approach to Advent in this strange, unpredictable, foreign year. Say yes to everything. Yes to each little door that opens, whatever gifts it brings. Yes to surprises, to walnuts and zebras; yes to birdsong; yes to stopping on the journey to admire the view. Yes to all the Christmas trees that were up before Remembrance Sunday, and all the ones that will come down on Boxing Day. Yes to worshipping at home on Christmas Day; or at church on Christmas Day; and alone, or together, or on Zoom, on Christmas Day.
A yes that echoes Mary’s yes to the unexpected and unknown. Say yes, and then — somehow — we’ll make it work.
Amy Scott Robinson is a writer, performance storyteller, and ventriloquist.