Introduced By Holly King
The final month of 2021 rolls in and people seem to be needing Christmas more than ever. Is it just me, or have stores been selling Christmas items, and have friends put up their decorations, earlier this year? Perhaps more than any other UK holiday, Christmas is one that is for everyone, no matter our age. We all remember how exciting it was when we were little, how long but enjoyable the lead-up was: with activities at school, in the high street, with friends, and at the local church. This excitement, born from childhood innocence, is adopted by adults. We play the game, we entertain the month-long build-up, we even find ourselves excited, independent of whether we have any children in our lives: Christmas cheer spreads!
Last month, I spoke about the duality of monsters, that the things we class as scary or hideous aren’t just that; they can also be heroic and beautiful. Similarly, the month of December has dualities. It is a month of cold, short days and bitter, dark nights. It is the final month, the death of the year, and brings with it the death of plants and nothing bears fruit for us to eat. It invokes huge pressure to provide an abundance of food, presents and entertainment; leading to many people spending beyond their means. With a month-long lead-up, we know that, as soon as we ring in the new year, we are in for five weeks of stretched budgets, post-holiday blues and a sharp return to the adult side of life.
December is, of course, also the month of excitement, of presents, of songs and lights and giddiness and indulgence and family and love. It is a celebratory month, a reflective one, a cosy by-the-fire one. So, what to do with this duality? Well, showcase both sides, of course.
First up this month is a feature from our Editor, Madeleine White, who shows us how a tradition that began when she was a child has continued and transformed years later:
It’s odd, isn’t it, how smells and tastes can bring back precious times? For me, I try to recreate some of the memories of my German childhood through cooking and baking. Having worked and met many people from different parts of the world who no longer live in their countries of origin, I know I’m not alone.
Christmas biscuits are a key part of my memories and I have involved my whole family; most recently introducing my new Ukrainian sister-in-law to our German Christmas baking. With that in mind, I thought I’d introduce my ‘writing family’ to this tradition as well. Here’s one to get you started:
Just so you know, ‘Gabel’ means fork in German, and the reference to it is because you use a fork to press down on the little ball of dough you have created to shape your biscuit.
‘Gabel Gebaeck ’ Biscuits
100g Icing sugar
1tsp Vanilla essence + 1tsp sugar (if you are in Germany/US you may be able to get 1 pack of Vanilla sugar to use instead)
200g Plain flour
- Preheat oven to 170-180°.
- Mix butter, sifted icing sugar and vanilla essence/sugar together, and whisk until it is light and fluffy.
- Slowly add flour and cornflour into the mixture to create a dough.
- When the dough is soft and non-sticky, form into a roll (approx 4cm diameter).
- Cut this into pieces and shape into balls. Press each ball down with a fork into a rough disk shape.
- Bake in a fan/conventional oven for 10-15 minutes.
© Madeleine White, 2021
Connect with Madeleine on Twitter and Instagram: @madeleinefwhite
Now, we bring some colour with artist TAK’s take on our theme. They have used pen, ink, watercolour and collage of oak leaves and snowflakes:
© TAK Erzinger, 2021
Connect with TAK on Instagram: @takerzinger, on Twitter: @ErzTak, on Facebook: poetryvagabond and visit their website: https://takerzinger.wixsite.com/poet
Next, Ray Miles shows us the other side of winter in this dark tale:
It’s another day in the office after a struggle to get in due to the snow. As he lives in a cul-de-sac off the main routes, there is no chance the road can be cleared and the car cannot be moved. But he dutifully makes his way in by the infrequent buses, even though he has a good quarter-mile to walk at the other end.
He goes about his daily chores with a will until the early afternoon, when the phone rings. It is the hospital. “You need to come,” they say, “and it needs to be now.” He is numb with shock and ends the call. He speaks briefly to his manager, who tells him to go.
He gathers his things hurriedly and rushes as fast as possible to the bus stop. On the way there he calls home, explaining the situation breathlessly and warning her to be ready to leave. The bus takes an age to appear but then he’s on and making his way back. Eventually, he reaches home and rushes in to pack a few things for an overnight stay. That done, he goes out to the car to assess the conditions. He knows that if he can get the car out of the road, he’ll be fine, as the main roads will be cleared. It’s bitterly cold but the sky is clear.
The numbness he has been feeling up to now has been replaced by a sense of panic. He starts to shovel the snow away from the front of the car and suddenly all the neighbours appear to help. She has asked them all and they have rallied round. There is hope!
He manages to move the car a small distance and others help to push him along. He clears some more and tries again. He gets further along. Inch by inch, they make it along the road and start up the hill. Then another miracle! A digger appears at the top of the street and starts clearing a path down towards them. Finally, they are on the move. The first hurdle has been cleared.
The daylight is fading and the cold is beginning to increase. The temperature has dropped to -8°already. They drive on as the darkness begins to enclose them. The phone rings.
“Where are you? How soon can you be here?”
The pressure is intense, like the cold. Eventually, the washers freeze completely and he has to stop every few miles to grab a handful of snow to clear the windscreen. The phone rings again.
“Are you close? We can keep her alive but there’s no guarantee.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Onwards into the black of the night. It is -16°now, unheard-of cold, but he battles on. The panic increases but he holds his nerve until finally, he sees the welcome lights of the hospital. They park and rush in, hurrying to the bedside.
The staff are obviously relieved and quickly explain the situation to him. “She is alive, but not conscious. We kept her alive until you got here. Don’t be alarmed by the tubes and the instruments. We’ll give you a moment with her and then speak to you again.”
Gratefully, he is ushered into the room. She is prone on the table; her breathing is laboured and a tube is taking the blood from her lungs. But for this, she would have drowned in it. There is no response but he didn’t expect any. He is stunned by the speed at which she is being taken from him. He holds her hand but it is cold. Machines indicate her heartbeat and the respirator pumps air into her lungs.
The nurse reappears. “The only reason she is alive is the cocktail of drugs she is being given. Without them, she will not survive. The best thing you can do for her is to allow us to stop the drugs and let her go. You can stay with her until the end.”
He consents and they stop the respirator and the machine that was pumping the drugs. The room becomes very quiet now and quickly the numbers on the display begin to decrease. She is dying in front of his eyes. He knows that it is the right thing to do but still wants it all to stop. Her body makes an involuntary spasm. Even in the final throes, her body fights the inevitable. Her breathing becomes shallower, the numbers decline, and still she fights. He prays to whatever god is listening.
“Let there be no pain and just ease her away.”
He holds her hand. Then the line is flat, the number is 0, the breathing stops. It’s over; she has given up the fight. The nurse comes in and switches off the displays. He is asked to wait outside while they prepare her. The terror of the day, the pressure of the drive, those things are gone now and have been replaced once more by the numbness as he is led out of the door.
For her, the pain is over, but for him, the agony is just beginning.
© Ray Miles, 2021
Finally, we round the last Monday Moments of 2021 off with a special Christmas tradition from Deputy Editor Claire Buss’s family:
When my mum was little, her favourite time of Christmas was Boxing Day; the day after the big event. This was because her family had a special festive tradition: tree presents. Small, often humorous presents hidden on the Christmas tree to be found and opened on Boxing Day.
When I was little, I thought it was amazing – more presents! It was so exciting, knowing there were two days of presents to look forward to. And as I grew older, it became more of an event. Even more important than Christmas Day presents. Festive shopping had a different focus, double the urge to find ‘the’ most perfect, bestest present in the whole world, ever. And then the joy of double wrapping, double bows and ribbons and double the number of tags to write, but Boxing Day ones having a small tree drawn on them.
Mum was always in charge of gathering together the Christmas presents and putting them out on both days, the little tree being how she knew which ones were for which day. When I moved out and began my own family, it was a tradition I wanted to take on. But one family’s tradition can seem weird to another family and I think my then partner, now husband’s, initial response was: “I have to buy more presents?” That kind of took the sheen off the whole experience. So I decided Tree presents would be a thing if we spent Boxing Day at Mum’s and if we didn’t, then the tradition would be a fond memory.
I have also relaxed Mum’s Christmas Day rules about breakfast, shower and being dressed in our best before sitting down to presents. I have two kids under ten; that just isn’t going to happen. I do still make them hand everything out and then take it in turns to open one present at a time, as I look on with a small glass of sherry and a shortbread biscuit. After all, tradition at such a traditional time of year is important.
© Claire Buss, 2021
Well, then! All that is left to say is a Merry Christmas from me and I hope the end of 2021 brings you much joy. Don’t forget to submit something as your last creative deed to: email@example.com, and read our latest magazine issue here.
The month of December has dualities. It is a month of cold, short days and bitter, dark nights. It is the final month, the death of the year. It is also a celebratory month, a reflective one, a cosy by-the-fire one. So, what to do with this duality? Well, showcase both sides, of course.