A Christmas at Home Story
Thursday December 23nd
Twas the night before Christmas
“Where’s the torch,” screams Stuart from the kitchen. “Who’s taken the torch?”
“The same elves that take sello-tape, scissors and gift wrap when you need them.”
“That’s not helpful.”
“Baaa..” says Cameron, scampering around the floor, “I hope Santa brings me sellotape.”
The power is reset and the lights come on to reveal a Sheep, Gold Star and Trumpet Herald. I’ve been making costumes all day. And writing a script. People assume a nativity script is easy as it’s the same plot ever year. But while it is the same plot, the words need work. Ask the guys who wrote the bible.
We may have light but we’re still without power as the ring main keeps tripping.
“How am I going to print out the script?” I panic.
“Er, I think we have a bigger problem… like no heating, hot water or electricity in the kitchen.”
The magnitude of this dawns on me and my eyes fill with tears. All is lost. Christmas is ruined. With Christmas eve almost upon us and the fridge warming up Stuart heads off to the cellar in search of dodgy wires while I desperately try to dream up solutions. I remember an electrician friend up the road and decide tonight he will be our saviour.
The lights are on in the electrician’s house. He greets me in his dressing gown and I realise I am in my pyjamas. As he ushers me in out of the cold I find his wife is also dressed for bed and soon we’re are having a strange pyjama party around the tree. It’s warm and Christmassy and for a moment I forget about Stuart in the cellar. But my conscience is pricked when they put another log on the fire. I spoil the moment with an outpouring of fears of a cold, hungry Christmas and my saviour promises to visit our stable in the morning.
“Don’t worry,” he reassures me, “It’s probably a fault with the circuit breaker, nothing major.”
Saturday December 24th
Ding, dong merrily on high
When I wake, Stuart is on the phone arguing with his mother. She’s changed her mind about coming to the nativity and won’t be persuaded. Too bad. I head off to photocopy scripts at the village shop and return to find my electrician having a cup of tea with Stuart. He’s already sorted out the power problem.
“I just reset it,” he explains, “maybe it’s intermittent.” Hope is restored. “But if it does come back again, you could be looking at a rewiring job.”
I don’t care. Christmas came back on with the electricity and I’ve a hundred tiny sandwiches to make for the nativity.
By sandwich one hundred Stuart’s mum has been persuaded to come but says she can’t because her car won’t start so Stuart heads off to collect her. Meanwhile I busy myself looking for gold, frankincense and myrrh looking presents under the tree but instead find a dead mouse.
“Is that a Christmas mouse?” asks Cameron.
I am too shocked to reply.
When Stuart breezes in with his mother we still haven’t dealt with the body.
“Dead.” whispers Hannah, “Mouse.”
We all look at the mouse. Then Stuart and I look at the power sockets next to the body and the tiny shreds of PVC, and a new reality dawns. The mice have nibbled away at our Christmas. All hope is lost.
“Why couldn’t we bring the mouse?” Cameron sulks as we drive over the fell to the church.
“Because there wasn’t a dead mouse in the stable.” I snap.
“Baaa..” says the Sheep, squashed in the back with granny, a Gold Star and Trumpet Herald.
The baby Jesus is born. Mary looks suitably in love amid a random cast of two Stars, four Kings, three Angels and a Sheep. Hannah is the Gold Star, dressed in a gold Barbie dress with four foil stars pinned to the bodice. It looks horribly home-made. Next to her another little girl shines brightly in a glittering shop-bought silver star costume. Mary looks like she is dressed by Monsoon, with a taffeta white dress and blue flowing head piece. Her Sheep looks like he’s dressed by Oxfam with white cotton wool stuck to his jumper and recycled donkey ears from last year’s play. But he is very emphatic in his lowing and thankfully doesn’t produce any dead mice. The baby goes in his crib on the altar and all is calm.
My mind wanders from warm stable to cold house. I want my Christmas to be a perfect moment, something to remember, but not for no power, hot water, heating or a defrosting freezer. And then from the stable in front of me come words I recognise. I recognise them because I wrote them, well paraphrased them. “The baby Jesus brings hope into the world, tonight and for all nights.” Hope. We have each other and we have Hope.
I mention this revelation on the way home. My mother in law harrumphs. She lost all hope some time ago when she found the bottle.
“Pandora had Hope in the bottom of the box,” says Matthew, who finds Greek myths more interesting than biblical tales. “Zeus put in all the bad things in the world into her present. Things like fear and death. But he also put in a little bit of Hope. To help us deal with all the bad stuff.”
Sunday December 25th
Jingle all the way
5.30am and the kids are routing through their stockings. In the dark. I pick out their shadows on the landing. I have no idea if this is a power cut or if they’re just canny enough to leave the lights out and hope we don’t notice. I can’t bring myself to check. If Christmas is spoilt I don’t want to know. I don’t want to lose hope.
We round the children up for church. Cameron has Heelies from Santa and puts them on. But he can’t skate and falls over on the way to the car.
“You’re not wearing those for church” I say.
“Dad says I can.”
I look at Stuart and envisage a recurring argument about our different parental attitudes to risk. I shrug. I don’t want an argument on Christmas Day and pray Cameron doesn’t get picked to do the offertory procession.
We are well into the third verse of Away in a Manger when Cameron is picked to do the offertory procession.
But he’s on wheels
He totters down the aisle on tiptoe towards the helper before I can grab him. I watch as he is offered a crystal decanter full of wine. I envisage him skating up the aisle, overbalancing, legs going everywhere, the blood of Christ splattering over baby Jesus in the crib on the altar. We’re going to be the ‘and finally’ on the local news tonight. Hope isn’t enough here. This demands action. I sprint down the aisle after him.
“You can’t do it,” I hiss at him. The priest moves to the front of the church to accept the gifts.
“He can’t do it.” I hiss. People start to turn around and look, their attention wandering from the third verse. I grab the arm of the helper.
“He can’t do it.” I hiss. “Because he’s wearing roller skates!”
The helper’s eyes widen and he starts to giggle. “I thought he was walking funny because his trousers were too tight!” he whispers, before taking the wine up to the priest himself.
Back at home things are still warm and cosy. The fridge is humming and ice clinks in our glasses over Christmas dinner. Matthew puts on a bow tie and acts as host. There are no dead mice in the presents. It is a indeed a very Merry Christmas.
Monday December 26th
Where is the light of the world when you need it?
2.30am and I am woken by the burglar alarm. There is no power. The house is black once again. This is the work of mice. I decide against another pyjama party and resolve to wait till morning to call my electrician friend. Lying in the darkness I remember the priest’s Christmas message about the light of the world, how a baby brought hope into the world in a stable in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, and how he is still here to help us overcome darkness. You can rewrite the words, but the story remains the same.
All is calm, even if it’s not bright. And I’ve got hope. Irrational, incredible, implausible hope. And in the peace of this black night I’m holding onto it.