Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Nice Quiet Christmas in Dulwich

Christmas this year was another reminder for me of how we are blessed with such lovely and generous friends. You may remember that, when David and I first arrived in England, we stayed with our friends Sue and Mark at their house in Dulwich, south east London. Sue is a long-time friend of ours from Beaches church, and she and Mark got married one year before us! They have been living in London (along with Meghan, Sue's daughter, who is fourteen) for about two years now while Sue is on a work placement - Mark is a native Liverpudlian.

Their whole clan was headed back to Canada over Christmas, and so my clan - David, and my parents who came from Geneva to spend Christmas with us - descended on their now-empty house to enjoy Christmas together. Due to Sue and Mark's continuing hospitality towards us, I have taken to calling their house "The Canadian Embassy in Dulwich." I think Mark likes that.

After a very hectic month at work, I was so grateful to have a chance to slow things down and lay low, not to mention catch up with my family. David and I threw some clothes into our backpacks (mostly pyjama pants and sweatshirts for me!!), as well as a conglomeration of Christmas gifts and grocery items, and hopped on the train one stop to North Dulwich station.

My parents had arrived the day before and were making their classic spaghetti sauce recipe in the kitchen when we arrived. We started catching up on the news and toasted the arrival of Christmas. David and I hadn't even really had the chance to do a lot of our typical pre-Christmas gear-up; we had next to no decorations in our apartment and we hadn't watched any of our favourite Christmas specials. (Though I had sneaked in the Garfield one a few weeks back - I love that one! Who's with me?) We did know, however, that we'd get lots of nice Christmas singing in while we were together!

Sue and Mark had kindly decorated their house with festive Christmas festoonery for our enjoyment - even though there were going to be elsewhere! We had agreed with my family that it would be a low-key Christmas gift-wise - David and I are giving each other a trip around Europe in March and April, after all - but we put our humble offerings under the beautiful tree and agreed it was all coming together nicely. That evening after the spaghetti, we all curled up in the living room and watched the Muppet Family Christmas together. That's the one where Fozzie brings all the Muppets up to his Mom's farmhouse for Christmas, and everybody is falling on the icy patch, and the guy from Fraggle Rock is upset because he and his dog Sprocket were looking forward to "a nice quiet Christmas!" We all loved it - and Jim Henson's cameo at the end gets me every time.

We spent Christmas Eve day slowly getting ready for the next day's feasting. David and I went on a Christmas Eve shopping excursion to Sainsbury's, which we both thought would be holiday suicide, but was in fact not so hectic as we feared.  We both enjoyed the chance to stroll along Lordship Lane together, in the not-too chilly December air. We grabbed some little quick lunch things to munch on, as well as ingredients for the ubiquitous Chocolate-chip-banana-sour-cream-coffee cake (not to mention ingredients for a non-dairy non-chocolate non-banana alternative, a new addition this year!) Also brussels sprouts - YUM.

We got dressed up for Christmas Eve night, and walked over to the Parish Church of St Barnabus for their creche service. This was the kind of low-impact Christmas Eve service I can imagine parents and clergy alike really love, where the kids just show up in whatever costume and as the service works its way through the Christmas story, the vicar says "Yes, and then the shepherds arrived, do we have any shepherd or sheep? Yes, you look like a shepherd, come up here now." Then we would sing "Away in a Manger." It was very sweet, and it was over in 35 minutes!  Ha ha. The music minister had a great ensemble put together - not sure if it was a crack team for that night or if they always play in worship - of school-aged young people and some older youth and parents. They sounded good! They had us until they played "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" as a postlude. Herrm. BUT, David got a second chance to sing "Once in Royal David's City," and I got to sing the descant on "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" (BCC Christmas concerts, anybody??), so everybody went home happy.

When we got home, we had a very nice roast pork joint with thyme, pre-stuffed by the good folks at Sainsburys, that we ate with roast vegetables and salad. Since we were in a new home environment for this year's celebrations, we discussed what the Christmas morning protocol would be for when people woke up at different times. Growing up at 14 Hambly, what we always did was, as we were waking up and getting ready to go downstairs (and our rooms surrounded the main landing on the second floor), each person would take their turn brushing their teeth in the washroom, and then sit on successive steps at the top of the wooden stairs, waiting to all go down. You weren't allowed to peek down into the living room before everyone was ready, but (you know how our stairs have that curve in them just before the top) I would sit riiiight at the closest step to the curve, as close as possible to the Christmas morning magic without actually breaking the rules. Then Dad would probably be next and sit down behind me, then Mom (she was always so slow!!) and then we'd all go.

So we determined that we'd all meet on the landing on the second floor (no pleasing curve in these stairs, but what can you do) unless there was some pressing need, like the preparation of coffee, for people to go down ahead.

Well, on Christmas morning that plan pretty much went out the window, and I went downstairs to find Dad and David chatting and having coffee in the kitchen. Which was fine with me because I wanted coffee. Then I got in trouble for wanting to perform a quick "Santa" mission over by the tree, and David made me let Dad to it for me. Then Mom came downstairs and we all got in trouble for breaking the Christmas morning rule. We were just getting along great on Christmas morning!

We spent a nice slow time opening our little presents. David gave me a Feist album and two awesome book finds he scored, to do with Benjamin Britten. My Mom gave me a great purse that she found for me in Geneva, and Santa had gone all the way to Switzerland to get me some chocolate! We gave Dad this great Tintin poster for his office from The Tintin Shop in Covent Garden - Anthousa went on a mission with me to get it while they were here! (And yes you read that right, there's an honest-to-goodness Tintin store.)

I gave David the new Steve Jobs biography, which he is now plowing through. Oof - it's heavy!

Later on it was time to start making the Christmas feast! I spent part of the day chopping cabbage, in between The Muppet Christmas Carol on TV (the Muppets play a large part of my Christmas rituals, okay?) and  spurts of the behind-the-scenes featurettes from The Lord of the Rings on my Dad's laptop. You may know that the Wyatt/Donaldson family recipe of cabbage salad is a key part of our Christmas spread - but the dang thing takes forever to make! And, a key aspect of the flavouring of the salad is to spend most of the time you're making it talking about how Grandma Wyatt always chopped the cabbage way finer than you ever could. This is how you get that special Christmas flavour in there.  Also dill.

As the bird got brown in the oven, we tuned in to the CBC via David's laptop, which was broadcasting the CBC Christmas Sing-In, recorded earlier in the month at St. Andrew and St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in downtown Montreal, where I attended and sang in the choir for a year. And worked door security - don't mess with me. They do a wonderful programme every year and the choir sounded fabulous. They broadcast it in Canada at noon, so the timing was perfect to accompany our Christmas dinner preparations. We sang along in harmony.

Boiling potatoes while the bird rests. Yummm...
Cabbage salad all ready to go - too bad it's not as fine as Hazel used to do it...
That's a fine looking bird!
Dad did the carving honours.
Mom making her wonderful gravy!
God bless us, every one!
How lucky were we to be together in Europe over Christmas! We also got the chance to Skype throughout the day with people we love who we couldn't be together with - notably David's parents. Happily, they were together with parts of the Eberlin family for their own Christmas celebrations, and they had enjoyed their Christmas (and birthday) gifts from us.

Merry Christmas!

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