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Christmas Days

Avoiding Christmas is impossible out here, on the land, in a village. This is not to suggest I would even try to.

From as far back as I can remember I've felt whatever it is that is Christmas Spirit, from just the glee of presents and traditions, to the sense of sharing with friends and family and strangers the fact that you are here and a smile and season's greeting is a good way to go about it. (Even before I can remember: there's a photo of my brother and I in thin red and white striped pyjamas --with matching nightcaps-- and grinning, not forced, just grinning wildly... I think that's the year my father built a fire engine and fire house bunkbed for the two of us... I must have been all of four or five, but I have no sensory recollection of that christmas.) I like the chintz, I like the bittersweet, I like the cold crunch of frost and rarely snow, the lights and christmas trees and tinsel and carols (the last time I remember caroling, though, is wandering the suburban streets behind the church in Santa Cruz, bundled up against the 50 degree farenheit weather, at dusk, and ending at Pastor Nonhof's for cider and cookies... That can't have been the last time, could it?). I like the parades on tv and american college football games and the dinner and the games the family and friends would play, from cards to rummy to cribbage to board games. I like the memories of travelling to relatives, of not having any money to get gifts and family not minding, of going to the movies on the day before or after. I like all those silly tv programs and old movies.

I haven't been having good luck with christmas the past few years. Either it's not getting anything decent for heyoka, or not thinking up great outings, or getting lost and pickpocketed in a dusty town in Morroco. So, with a little trepidation, I approached the festive season with caution. But this year, everything pointed towards a good time.

You could call them omens. The two turtle doves in the poplar tree, followed by the pheasant under the peach tree. We've had chestnuts roasting on an open fire. A perfect fir tree handpicked and decorated with care (including with wooden ornaments my father made). Snow a couple days before christmas (it melted by christmas, but that doesn't really matter, it's back again, just before new year). Santa Claus sledded down the street on christmas eve, and the sight of the pleased and awed many young children crowding the small village street gave me a lump in my throat. We caroled in one of the local pubs; a few hours later, in the same pub, a stripper celebrated an absent boy's birthday in front of an old man whose walrus moustache quivered. We went to christmas 'mass', or communion, at the chapel two houses down from us. Presents were exchanged and they were perfectly chosen on all counts. Christmas dinner, stuffing ourselves, a couple drinks at the pub on christmas day because you have to (a gentleman who overstayed his visit was fetched back home by his wife swinging a rolling pin! All in good fun, of course). Does it seem as if I've had a great Christmas? There's been all this and more.

So there are a myriad grand new memories to add to the years, all good, all perfectly fitting.

We've been on outings. From just walking out the front door to see what we could see -- a spectacular sunset, whirling flocks of starlings and rooks, gnarled windswept oak trees, snowed over fields -- to driving a different way from the nearest market town, Diss. We go on drives and don't mind getting a little lost. Invariably you find an old church, like the one in Burgate when we were out searching for a christmas tree (there are gravestones for a family named Appleyard). We've seen a thatched church, a castle mound, fields of sheep, ducks skidding on iced-over ponds, horses with steaming breath, deer shooting down the road, rabbits hopping under marshes, polish ponies racing to keep warm right along us, more fields full of sheep. On one trip back from picking heyoka up from the station, we stopped at the Redgrave church, a monolith that seems to be in the middle of nowhere. The sky was clear, empty of moonlight, thus filled with stars, so many that they seemed to spill out: yes, shooting stars, bright and piercing. The last time we'd seen one was in the desert in Morocco, and it landed a mile away.

I'm not sure when it stops, remembering good things. Things from growing up in rural california (like the christmas tree that must have been twenty feet tall in the living room; how did we fit it in?), And things shared with heyoka (like yesterday, at the beach in Southwold, when, under a deep coal ember sunset, it started to snow. Or today, when the blue from snowblindness as we walked through blanketed fields reminded me of being in Petra at sunset last march and all the shadows were purple). Are they all supposed to meld together? Spring up whenever I tug at them? Or lie around, waiting for good times to add to them? There's been times when I've thought I could never be so happy as now, and the amazing thing is that lately, it seems to happen every day.