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Counting down

When I was a child one of the things that told me Christmas was coming was the steady arrival of parcels from Britain and Canada. I remember the British parcels in particular, because they were wrapped in a special sort of brown paper we don’t get in New Zealand – it’s almost striped, with a subtle tone-on-tone pattern, and a more rusty brown colour than ours. There were stamps – lots and lots of them – some with the Queen’s profile, others with a Christmas theme. I also remember the careful writing of my Aunts – Madge’s small tidy script and Sandra’s bolder, rounded hand, and my Dad’s sister Elaine’s untidy scrawl. The Canadian parcels didn’t have any string, but my Mum’s sisters clearly had a lower opinion of postal workers and had meters (yards, in those days!) of string and a multiplicity of knots to ensure the parcel would survive intact to its destination.

In the absence of parcels, nowadays my countdown begins with making the Christmas Cake. True to tradition, I aim to make it on ‘stir-up Sunday’, the Sunday-next-before-Advent. It is so called because the Collect (prayer) for the day in the old 1662 Anglican Prayer Book begins “Stir up, O Lord, the hearts of thy people…” – and was taken as a useful reminder by the women of the congregation to get on with the job of making the traditional fruit cake. I was on time this year – and our cake will have a chance to improve not only with keeping, but also with a weekly brushing with brandy!

Today I performed another part of the Christmas countdown, and wrote and posted off the overseas cards. This year I’ve managed to make them all – nothing too fancy as I needed 16 cards and so I made a few each of several designs – none of which took longer than a few minutes to make. There are two really important parts of the process for me. The first is constructing a newsletter that rounds up the events of the year for each of us, and I   love doing this. Looking back on the year gone by is a chance to reflect and enjoy again the highlights we have experienced. The second important part of writing the overseas cards is to write some words in each card that are chosen for that recipient. A little story, a wish or a shared memory – I like to add a little something special along with holiday greetings.

What do you remember from your childhood countdown to Christmas? Is this still in your life, or has something else replaced it?

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