My Russian-Armenian grandmother celebrated on Christmas Eve. That was when she served the special dinner, after which presents were unwrapped. Christmas Eve was also full of mystery and magic. It was when Gogol’s witch flew out on her broomstick, plucking the stars from the sky, and tucking them down her ample sleeves; when the devil tried to steal the moon by throwing a cloth sack over it, scorching his fingers in the process.
A night for telling fairy tales.
Christmas Day was the anticlimax, when we ate the leftovers and lounged around, watching MGM musicals on television.
As I grew up, my English half took over for a while, and Christmas Eve became the time for fussing and preparing for the Big Day. A night for frantically peeling Brussels sprouts and parsnips before sealing them in freezer bags, ready to be cooked.
In recent years, I have worked out the perfect balance between my Eastern and my Western sides – I celebrate both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. For two days, I feast and make merry. No, I do not feel guilty about enjoying copious amounts of delicious food. My ancestors celebrated Christmas for twelve whole days. That leaves me plenty of room to feel smug about my comparative frugality.
On Christmas Day, I like to be in the company of others. The more, the merrier. Friends are marginally preferable to family. On Christmas Eve, on the other hand, I prefer a few hours of solitude, so that I can re-enter the magic world of my grandmother’s Christmases, undisturbed… Just as I am doing, this afternoon.
It is nearly three, and I am nearly ready. The miniature Christmas tree on my desk is lit up with white fairy lights; the Advent candle flame is slowly burning into the number 24 stamped in gold on the red wax. Next to me, a mug of hot chocolate – with a pinch of cayenne – and, on a plate, a large wedge of panettone. The Radio 4 announcer is giving us the annual historical background to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, which began in 1918. Then, silence but for a brief, almost imperceptible cue from the organ. I hold my breath and strain my ear. Will the treble hit the first syllable, “Once in Royal David’s City” with confidence? Will he make it through the rest of the opening verse without faltering?
“… her little child.”
Good lad. He did it.
I picture the darkening stained glass windows of King’s Chapel, where I have spent many an evening, and many a Christmas Eve, the flickering candle flames dancing on the faces of the choral scholars, the attentive frowns of the little boys, all eyes on conductor Stephen Cleobury. The multicoloured sound of men’s and boys’ voices weaving through the air, rising up to the fan vaulting.
Outside my window, the setting sun splashes a lake of fiery gold behind the black outline of the rooftops. Within seconds, the gold has mutated into brush strokes of rose and apricot that spread across the sky. On the black shape of the tree, in the garden, the inky silhouettes of two crows. They await the signal. As the sky darkens, they fly away, past the rooftops. Once a year, on Christmas Eve, they are freed from the corvine bodies they inhabit the rest of the year. The first crow turns into a handsome man with the proud looks of the Caucasus, and an aquiline nose. He sings with a velvet voice, and dances with passion and grace. The second crows is transformed into a woman so beautiful, no fairy tale can illustrate, nor pen describe. Her eyes burn bright, like sun rays on obsidian. She is a storyteller, and her tales bewitch all who listen.
There is no sign of the squirrels. They, too, on Christmas Eve, turn into histrionic acrobats and spend the night feasting and leaping over a bonfire.
Night has thrown her cloak over London. I pour myself a glass of mead. The crows and squirrels will be tired after a whole night of revelry. I must go to the park, in the morning, and take them some Christmas breakfast. Perhaps a wedge of panettone.
In the unlikely event you are reading this on 25th December, then I wish you a Merry, Happy, Cosy and Fun Christmas.
© Scribe Doll