The Whitest Christmas

Here we are, arrived again at Christmas. I'm wearing new slippers and Xander's shirt and considering the vast quantities of varied foodstuffs I've consumed today. It starts with church. I don't do church, really, but the English are under the impression that their version of church isn't particularly church-y; that is, they seem to think that singing endless rounds of carols which proclaim undying love for Jesus has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with tradition. And of course the funny thing is that they're right; nobody I've met sings those carols with pious intent, they sing them because afterwords there is mulled wine and mince pies and the unmistakable buzz of Christmas.

So I acquiesce to church in this case, and dutifully ignore the purple banner above the pulpit, emblazoned with a crown, which reminds us all that Jesus is "King of Kings, Lord of Lords." We're seated next to the orchestra, a motley but well-meaning bunch ranging in age from 10 to 90 (or so it appears). I'm directly in front of one of the young violinists, who scrapes her bow against the strings with both carelessness and great concentration, as if she can't quite bring herself to commit to playing this instrument which is so clumsily slung beneath her chin, but knows she needs to make a sound. Then one of the flutists, in her early teens, reads a passage from the Bible with a glassy voice that would make the BBC proud (she read the same passage last year, as I remember, and seems to have improved her delivery). We sing some more. Perhaps the vicar makes a speech, but I'm overcome with a pleasing sensation of happiness and can't bring myself to pay attention to whatever point he's trying to make by unwrapping a gift in front of the congregation; if I listen closely, I might be made to feel guilty, and this mood doesn't leave any room for guilt.

After, we glide over the ice to the car. The fog of the morning has lifted. Earlier a white mist, half-lit by the sun, had draped itself over the trees. Now, though warmth is spreading, there are patches of snow in the fields; Bing Crosby comes on the radio, and it's the whitest Christmas I've ever seen, anyway.

We have coffee. We open gifts. We overeat, and circumstance persuades me to nibble on a brussels sprout or two although the taste is too acrid for my liking, almost maliciously acrid, I think, as if the vegetable is laughing at us all. We light the Christmas pudding and watch the blue glow; then we pour various kinds of cream over it and try to pretend that we're still hungry enough to eat more. Then we have some dessert wine and play charades, which ends with me trying to mime the word "saving" by rescuing a crumb from some unseen plight. We nap; I have the feeling that I could sleep the whole night through, but at about 8 o'clock I rouse myself for some tea. I nibble on chocolates, pay a cursory amount of attention to the television, flip through books; we're all only half-present, it seems.

We've forgotten what outside looks or feels like. In this insulated world the rhythm of the day is dictated by baths and naps and meals and snacks. It's nice somehow, like disappearing completely for awhile, like holing up during a storm. We make plans to go for a walk tomorrow. Maybe there will be snow on the ground, I'm thinking.