What Does A Festive Season Need?

Last December, when we went to London with our younger son and his sweet bride, I thought about my favorite parts of the holiday, wondering if we’d find what I treasure – joy and laughter and love for sure, the cheerful ghosts of Christmas past, and some specifics in the present.

We brought family with us – a critical component, and made a bare bones flat in Notting Hill home base. It was the sweet bride’s first trip to London, Harry Potter and Harrods’ led her list, but by the 21st the fact of Christmas became more pressing.

Friends – a warming Christmas element – were in short supply. We did eat dinner one night with our English friends at their cheery house (ironically, they left the next day for the States to spend their holiday). They gave us a small, bright red poinsettia for the flat’s fireplace mantel.

London provided wintry weather aplenty – rain and wind or clear, cold days – appropriate for the woolen hats and scarves we bought as small gifts to stuff stockings from home, and hung by the fireplace with care.

Solstice night we joined a walking tour to view Christmas lights – Covent Garden and Oxford Street a-twinkle, and giant white snowflakes glittering between the buildings in the tiny lane leading to St. Martin’s Square. Shoppers gathered in front of store windows with Victorian Christmas scenes – the kind that only huge and old-fashioned department stores can offer.

My family later reported spotting that Christmas tradition, “Love Actually,” playing on a big screen in the outdoor part of a pub. I missed it while talking to a fellow walker or I would have returned!

We played Christmas music on a tiny speaker for the iPhones, and heard the live BBC broadcast of the Festival of Carols. (I associate that with early morning on Christmas Eve in Anchorage). And by Christmas Eve, awash with the memories that color the holidays, I wanted to gather food for a feast – even if small.

Dramatic Christmas trees decorate public London – each year the City of Oslo presents the people of London with a huge tree that dominates Trafalgar Square (given in gratitude since 1947, for assistance during World War II), a red velvet tree designed by artists for the Victoria and Albert Museum filled the foyer there, and in Covent Garden’s Piazza giant red balls and white lights covered an enormous tree that stood in a whiskey barrel of startling size.

The bay windows of London townhouses seem designed for Christmas trees, and in our neighborhood one stood out. I opened the gate, snuck inside the tiny front yard, and took a photo. A book tree! Books artfully piled and strung with white lights, broad at the bottom and tapering to a skinny top where an artist’s wooden figure stood with arm raised in good cheer.

We had noticed trees for sale in lots tucked into spaces beside churches and in the entrance areas of big stores. I longed for one in spite of impracticality.

Finally the sweet bride and I cobbled together a tiny tree – evergreen boughs fresh with fragrance from a florist shop tied together with red ribbon, decked with a miniature string of colored lights, and topped by a star cut from shiny paper.

The basics of Christmas magic in place – off to bed!

Workroom Book tree


12 thoughts on “What Does A Festive Season Need?

  1. You made lovely memories in London a year ago! Thanks for sharing; I feel as if I had been there with you.             Love, Jane 

  2. I love the city lights at this time of year, and your book tree always makes me smile. These are the little things that help get through a season that can be fraught with missing those not with us. Our first Christmas in Alaska I was so lonesome and homesick. But some new friends took us out to the woods where we cut a little tree which we decorated with strings of popcorn and cranberries and ornaments made out of tinfoil. For his Christmas present I knitted my husband a red tie to wear at the Christmas dinner at the friends’ house. By the end of the day the poor tie had sagged and stretched so much that it reached his knees. Sometimes out of desperation come life long cherished memories. Nice post – Thanks Katy!

  3. Lovely post! Its been years since we were in London around the holidays. Thanks for sharing it brought back lots of fun memories. I liked the book tree, hmm what a great idea …

  4. You reminded me of a Christmas spent in Japan on a Marine Corps base. My husband was stationed there and, as he was an enlisted man, I could not accompany him and stayed in the States, teaching school. But I flew over during my Christmas break and stayed in a guesthouse on the base. There were Christmas decorations and Santas in the streets of Iwakuni and it was a strange and wonderful time.

    We celebrated Solstice with a little party of friends last night — how I would have loved it if you had walked it the door!

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