Nostalgia at Christmas and Learning from the Children….

Do you find it hard to let go of Christmas?

It’s that time again when we have the slight lull that follows the festivities of Christmas Day with all the celebrating, eating and family time, before gearing ourselves up for the onslaught of the New Year. It is one of the precious few times of the year when we have several days off in a row (at least in our house), forget which day it is, and where we have time for lay-ins and cooked breakfasts before a leisurely walk or perhaps a trawl through the sales.

I always struggle with this time of year; I don’t like giving up on Christmas. I cling on to the twinkling lights and the decorations for as long as possible. I inwardly cringe when I hear people saying they can’t wait to ‘get back to normal’, or that they have already taken their decorations down the day after Boxing Day. I don’t get it. It’s dark. WE need lights. WE need to keep the fun going as long as possible and enjoy the time of year that allows us to slow down.

Whilst saying all this, I appreciate Christmas isn’t an easy time for some. For those struggling with illness, financial problems, or loss, it can be hard to face all the Christmas festivities. There is something so poignant about this time of year; it’s as if the world around us has altered in readiness for the revered time, and in the midst of the hectic build up there is a certain heightening of emotion which can be hard to cope with at times. For me, this was my first Christmas without my beloved dad; we missed him hugely, and I’m sure we weren’t the only family struggling not to look at an empty chair at this time.

I consider myself to be fairly senior now and I look back down the years with more than a little nostalgia, especially at this time of year. Memories flood back from Christmas’s past and I am plunged into certain wistfulness. The seasons seem to be getting shorter and shorter with the space between them constantly shifting and moving on before we have had chance to enjoy the present. At our local garden centre, Santa had moved in in October and was back in the North Pole before we knew it. (Although the grotto was amazing). All that remains in the Christmas store now are a few sad and bedraggled decorations selling at knock down prices, whilst the summer barbecue equipment is coming back in through the door, along with the garden furniture and the patio heaters. I have never been able to work out who would buy these things in the still dark days of winter, but obviously some people do. Don’t get me wrong, I know we can’t cling on to Christmas for too long, but surely we can wait a few more weeks before calling time on everything festive.

I am sure now I will never be the Queen of England. I would put money on it. I’m not even remotely in line to the throne, although I must say, I can do quite a good royal wave, but if I WERE ever to be Queen, or Prime Minister (now there’s a thought) the first thing I would do would be to create a public holiday at the end of January. I have always thought that would be a very good idea. It wouldn’t be nearly so bad clearing up after Christmas if we knew there was another holiday on the horizon. Like a ‘Goodbye to Winter, Spring is on the horizon’ sort of holiday.

I don’t want to see chocolate creme eggs in the shops during the first weeks of January, and although I am a romantic, I’m not yet ready to see Valentine’s cards either.

You have probably deduced that I don’t bother with starting a new diet or a new project on January 1st. I will just try and stick to the healthy diet I have always tried to follow, not always successfully, but then we all fail from time to time. I will try and keep up my daily walks and do the odd bit of meditation, but I won’t be setting any rules that will be broken a few weeks down the line. Yet I think I need to view things a little differently. One thing I have noticed this season whilst watching and listening to my grandchildren is this: children love Christmas and everything about it. They are able to plunge in to all the happy things about this time with more or less total abandon. They are (usually) happy to wear a tea towel on their heads and pose as a shepherd, or as an assistant alien as in our grandson’s case, and wave happily to an adoring audience. They think it is quite normal to listen out for distant bells and gaze expectantly at the sky on Christmas Eve. They are more than happy to get up in the early hours of Christmas Day and jump up and down with excitement. But as Christmas draws to a close they move on to new days and new experiences, running headlong into the New Year and all the new experiences it will bring.

That seems to me to be the best way to go about things.

So as this year draws to a close I wish you all good things – a chance to walk in frosty lanes when all the world is quiet, stillness when you need it, and joy and laughter too. The love of family and the familiarity and warmth that lasting friendships bring. And for all of us, I wish us the gift of peace.

Ps. Perhaps keep the fairy lights going for another week…….

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The Lamb who never forgot…

Sheep have very good memories. They can remember at least fifty individual sheep and they can remember humans for years…

Sheep have best friends..

Sheep and shepherds are mentioned 247 times in the bible.

A lamb identifies her mother by her bleat.

Here is a story about a very special lamb.

It was a bitterly cold night and the frost was hard on the ground which sparkled in the setting sun. The sky was streaked with shades of blue and pink; the beautiful sunset making up for the bone-chilling cold. Across the fields a shepherd could see his flock of sheep huddling together to keep warm. It was time to give them some more food and water; then they would cope well with the cold weather; their warm woolly coats well able to keep out the the damp and the chill. As he looked again, something  in the corner of the field caught his eye. He saw a small sheep. A lamb really; standing in the far corner of the field all alone, looking out across the fields. The shepherd strode across the field, his crook in his hand, steadying him on the frozen ground. He approached the lamb and the lamb looked up at him. His eyes were nearly black in his little white face and his coat felt thick and springy under the shepherds gnarled hand as it reached out to stroke him.

‘Come on little fellow,’ said the shepherd picking him up and tucking him under his arm, ‘I don’t want you getting lost.’ He set him down with the other sheep farther across the field and went to sit with the other shepherds for some companionship.

The shepherds built a fire and sat looking after their sheep, ready for a long, cold night. The fire crackled and smoked as the sky darkened and their heads nodded drowsily. Pulling his  colourful robe around him, the first shepherd stared out into the darkness. He looked around as though he was searching for something, and he kept close to the fire. Tonight felt different, he thought to himself. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was definitely different. He had never felt nervous in the fields before; he knew every corner of these hills; almost every blade of grass and every twist in the surrounding path, but tonight he was uneasy, he felt unsettled. He cast his eye across the field and the lamb he had picked up earlier was standing up and looking alert; it was as though he was waiting for something as yet unexplained.

Times were hard in the land. There was much unrest in the surrounding towns and cities and often the sound of gunfire would echo around the hills. Even now, late into the night, the shepherd could hear the rumble of explosions in the distance. He wondered why there were always people fighting in the world. He feared for all the families forced to flee their homes and leave all the remnants of their lives behind them. Would they find a place of safety?

The shepherd remembered the last time he had travelled into the nearest town to buy some sheep to add to his flock. He had felt unsafe and hadn’t stayed long. He had just had enough time to load some sheep on to his trailer, pay the farmer and leave, before he heard shots being fired and people screaming. As he drove out of town he saw the fear on the faces of the farmer and his wife as they watched him leave. In the comparative safety of his hut in the hills, he thought about them often. He remembered the haunting face of a young woman who was heavily pregnant. The shepherd wished he could go back to help the family get to safety, but he feared for the life of his own family too. He stared into the darkness deep in thought. Silently, the little lamb crept over and settled down beside him. Drawing comfort from this, the shepherd smiled and dozed for a while.

In the early hours of the morning, the shepherd awoke with a start. The sky was unusually bright and there was a single star glowing brightly. He put his hand down to touch the lamb but it was gone. Getting up, the shepherd looked around in the dazzling light. For a moment, he thought he saw a figure pointing towards a nearby barn. He wasn’t sure if he believed in angels, but the figure smiled at him and told him not to be afraid.

The shepherd was greeted by an unusual sight. The star was shining brightly over the barn, and inside he saw the farmer he remembered from the town. His wife was laying on a pile of hay and cuddling a baby. Right beside her was the lamb. It was laying very close to the baby, warming it with his woolly coat. For the rest of the day and many days to come, the lamb never left the baby’s side. The family had few belongings; just the clothes they had arrived in, but for the moment they were safe.

Word seemed to get around that there was a family in need and help seemed to arrive from many unlikely places, bearing gifts for the little baby. Some men even arrived on camels; they had been studying the stars and had been waiting for good news.

When the shepherd spoke to the farmer he asked him how they had found their way up to the hills. ‘We had no choice but to run for our lives’ said the farmer, ‘we did not know where to go, but as I looked up in the direction of the hills I heard the lamb bleating loudly; it seemed to be waiting for us, to show us the way. I think it was the lamb I had reluctantly sold to you when you came into town. I had had no choice, as I needed the money.’

Soon, peacekeeping forces arrived and the family were airlifted to safety. The shepherd hoped that they would be able to start a new life. Who knew, the baby could grow up to do great things.

The shepherd had renewed hope for a peaceful future. He went back to tending his flock and wherever he went, the lamb was at his side.

Blessings to you.