December 2020: In the garden

I think the Queen was right. But then I am quite a fan. I’ve grown out of thinking her too frowny and miserable, posh and frumpy and now see her for the extraordinary force of good and stability and sacrifice that she is.

In her Christmas Day speech, she spoke of light and of hope. She always seems to get right to the heart of things. 

Because Christmas in the northern hemisphere is exactly that. With a little bit of magic thrown in for good measure.

I never worked out how to recreate that magic in the tropics or the south. I was born thinking Christmas was a bright, sparkling light in the midst of the deepest, darkest gloom. 

Visually, the contrast of Christmas lights against the grey skies and short afternoons. But also felt from within. When nature has paused for its winter break and we ourselves are exhausted from the year that’s closing in on us, Christmas pops up just at the right time to bring us joy and happiness, light and hope and a reminder of all that’s important.

In the cold, dark afternoon of 19th December, Boris Johnson arrived on our screens to tell much of the country they could no longer meet for Christmas. At the end of such a long, painful year, it was almost more than we could bear. 

Half of me wanted to say, “no, I’m not playing nicely anymore, we’ve been isolating for two weeks so it’s entirely safe and I’m going to carry on regardless”.

But the other half of me was so numb from the year and so used to having any plans foreshortened, that it seemed almost par for the course. 

Even more significantly, I knew there was no convincing Mum and Dad to break the rules and so with a heavy heart I turned Boris off, picked up my phone and called my childhood home.

Paul had decided that before Mum and Dad moved into ‘Tier 4’ at one minute past midnight, we needed to get over to their house to drop off their presents. 

So I learnt to speed wrap whilst Paul made some dinner and then off we went into the cold, dark night with a boot full of presents in tow. 

We were quiet on the journey over there. Paul doing his best to keep our spirits up, but both of us feeling as though a little part of us had been stolen. 

But there was something touching, something adventurous and special, about spontaneously finding ourselves outside their house swapping presents on a cold, dark December evening. The fact that we wanted to spend the evening in the car for just a few moments with them spoke volumes; it didn’t matter that we couldn’t hug or take a single step over the threshold.

It’s what Christmas does to you. You’re willing to do whatever it takes to get a taste of its magic. 

The following day, I cancelled half of the Ocado order, sadly deleting Dad’s special cheese, Mum’s favourite figs and a box of Christmas crackers.

Self-isolation being no longer required, we ventured to one of our very special places, Blenheim Palace. We adore going for walks in its extensive grounds and felt we needed to blow away some of our sadness. 

It was freezing and wet and we arrived to a solitary merry-go-round playing Christmas music, a whole bank of take-away stalls closed up and just the odd other soul looking out from sad-looking eyes squeezed between tops of masks and bottoms of woolly hats. 

A tear rolled down my face. And another. It was just the saddest, bleakest scene. Paul said it was like a sci-fi film, where everything at first glance looks normal, but actually, it’s really not.

But the sun came out and that walk did me no end of good. I’d got my sadness out and could now pick up the pieces.

When we arrived back home a package had been left for a neighbour, and passing it over to him, asking how they all were, he said, simply, “we’re the lucky ones”. 

And of course he was right. Time for me to stop wallowing in self-pity and start getting on with things.

The following day was the winter solstice. The shortest day of the year. A day where you wake up in the dark, do a few jobs and then find it’s dark again before you’ve blinked twice.

But with that day brings hope. It’s a time of pending renewal. 

A time that tells you everything is going to be better from now on. We’ve done with the worst; light and brightness and new life are now on their way. 

Almost to the hour of the sun reaching its maximum tilt, the aconites spring to life to tell you that all will be well. That there is hope, that things will improve, that nature will never let us down.

Waking up on Christmas Day, in bed with tea and stockings and my husband, I couldn’t help feeling how lucky I was. My friend and I excitedly texted each other, both of the Christmases we had so enthusiastically planned and worked towards thrown up in the air, yet each of us sharing, in that moment, feelings of deep contentment and happiness. 

It’s called Christmas magic. Nothing else can touch it in any way. 

I hope you’ve had a magical Christmas, too.

10 thoughts on “December 2020: In the garden

  1. Adriana says:

    I too keep thinking how lucky we are here in Australia, even after 4 months of isolation here in Victoria we have fared very well. Lives have been lost people here too of course but it all pales compared to the UK and many other places in the world. “This too shall pass”. It is so wonderful that you and Paul have your home and garden to keep you sane, happy and delighted Janna.
    Loved your post. I think Christmas is just what you are accustomed to; it can be magical if you make it so, wherever you live. Have a much better and wonderful New Year. Oh, and I too am a fan of the queen and so is my 36 year old daughter, she has her on the top of her list of women she most admires for her strength, common sense and ceaseless public service.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Well I definitely know who to come to when I next have a ‘hot’ Christmas to plan for. You can tell me how to make hot Christmas magic! Or perhaps it is just what you grew up with – nostalgia for those childhood days? It’s true that cold Boxing Days, 27th Decembers, 28th Decembers….are not quite as nice as the Christmas Day ones, even for me. We’ve just got home after a very wet and blustery walk! Good to get outside though. And yes, I read something in the newspaper this morning pointing out that people who were born after the Queen took the throne, have since had a full and long career and retired at the normal age. Her public service day in, day out and with such restraint, for such a long time, really is extraordinary. Some might say that all the palaces and staff make up for it, but I personally don’t envy those one bit!!

  2. Suzanne says:

    Hi Janna, sorry for my late reply but I did want to comment on this poignant post. It created quite a mix of emotions.
    My initial flush of annoyance of a possible criticism of the Queen (quickly dispelled when I payed more attention to what I was reading – IMHO she sets the gold standard for a public figure) was quickly overtaken with sadness both for those in lock-down and separation of families over Christmas. I empathised with you missing out on your family gathering at Christmas and shed my own tear for the absence of our Sydney family. But then your positive take on Christmas elicited…guilt! COVID really hasn’t touched us. We did have Christmas with our WA family. We remain safe and secure within our bubble, cut off from the rest of the world; but there was a sting in the tail…heat. Three days of 40+ degree and hot, dry winds over Christmas, with most days throughout December being 35 and over, does not make for a pleasant festive season. The trend of extreme heat, vivid blue sky, blinding sunlight and strong winds is continuing for January. SIGH!
    May 2021 treat you kindly Janna and please keep writing your beautifully photographed thoughtful and insightful posts. XX

    • jannaschreier says:

      Well, I’m even slower. As a friend said to me of lockdown, the less you do, the less you do, and I think she hit the nail on the head with that. You did indeed seem to experience a whole smorgasbord (as you Aussies say) of emotions! But glad you’re with me on the Queen. Gold standard indeed – if only others could be a little more restrained! But no guilt please – such an unproductive emotion, unless you’d actually done something to cause our lockdown, which I’m thinking you probably didn’t! Sad that you weren’t able to have your Sydney family there with you for Christmas either. Hope it’s cooled down a little now. We had a high of two today – if only we could just swap a little bit of heat/cool across the seas. It is stressful looking at a garden knowing it is suffering and that there’s little you can do. So many things are more resilient than we think though – and always an excuse to try a new plant when one fails. Hope you have a wonderful 2021 and thank you ever so much for your encouragement as always.

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