Tag Archives: Christmas

New Christmas Poem: The Christmas Loaf

The Christmas Loaf

is a year in the baking

is stuffed with good things

raisins and ginger

cinnamon and nutmeg

almonds and clove.

is long in the kneading

pummelled and rolled

folded and pummelled

again until yeast is blended

and can begin its work.

is cosseted in its proving

kept by the radiator

tucked into its bowl

with a snowy tea towel,

given time to grow.

is aromatic in its baking

turning golden in the oven.

Is brought to the table,

broken between us shared

and is gone.

Angela Topping

 

Wishing you all a very joyous Christmas and Yuletide Festival.

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Christmas Fiction by Angela Topping

Christmas is a wonderful time to a small child; it is a time full of magic and mystery. I remember one Christmas in particular, when I was around six years old. I still believed fervently in Father Christmas. I had vague memories of other Christmasses, where dreams had come true for me; somehow inexplicably the doll I wanted had materialised in the old pillowcase I used to hang up at the bottom of my bed. But at six, I understood that if I wrote a note and sent it up the chimney, then if I had been good, I might get my wish, so long as it was not too expensive, for Father Christmas had to get presents for all the children of the world, so I mustn’t be greedy.

 

So what was special about this one Christmas? Well, it was the Christmas I met him, face to face, and talked to him. It was the first time I had met someone famous, someone you could read about in a book. It was also the Christmas I first walked the boards of a stage, even if it was only a brief, non-speaking part as an angel, with a host of others.

 

Meeting Father Christmas was overwhelming, but I wasn’t even expecting it. I had been taken by my father to the forest, because it was my responsibility to choose the tree; mother said it was completely up to me! My head swelled with the importance of it all. We got out of the car to see a tall circle of trees propped up all around us, wearing giant hairnets, the smaller ones at the front and the taller ones lined up behind, just as we had done at school for a class photograph. I liked the tall ones, but I wanted a tree that would stand in our bay window, so children could count Christmas trees on their way home. I liked to do that myself.

 

I was pointing to the tree I wanted when I saw a rough wooden sign which said: This way to Father Christmas’! I tugged my dad’s sleeve. He smiled at the man serving us and asked him to save the tree for us, handing over a ten pound note as I pulled               him away down the muddy path. We turned a corner, and there he was!

 

He was sitting in a little log cabin, drinking a mug of tea. His cheeks were carmine, just as in all the pictures, and his beard was bushy white. He smiled at me and said ‘Hello’ in a chuckly voice. His eyes really did twinkle! He set down his mug as I dashed up to him. Last year I would have been shy, but being an angel had given me confidence.

 

He lifted me on to his knee. He smelt of soap and pine needles, just like Christmas always does. I was able to tell him my name and some of the things I would like to find in my stocking this year, and I thanked him for all the things I had had before. He said that I was a good little girl and my mummy and daddy must be very proud of me; I was a little angel. I wondered how he knew I had played an angel – but then I remembered, he knew everything.

 

Daddy led me back to the man selling the trees, and I turned and waved to Father Christmas. As we put the tree in the boot, the man called to dad that if we had only come a little later, he would have been able to take me to see Santa Claus. Dad smiled down at me. We had no need to see a person pretending to be Father Christmas; we had spoken to the real one and he was my friend. I shivered with the thrill of it all.

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Group Poem: Christmas Is…

This poem was written by the audience at the Christmas Feast reading Jo Bell and I did in Northwich Library on 8th December.

Christmas Is…

Christmas is Yule in disguise, a shadow of festivities past.

Christmas is mince pies and mulled wine

pine needles embedded in carpet pile.

Christmas is endless games of Scrabble

and my grandmother buying up the best properties on Monopoly

(you have to speculate to accumulate)

Christmas is glorified gluttony.

Christmas is Dad appearing with port at regular intervals.

Christmas means getting together with family

and hooting with laughter at ‘Do you remember when?’

Carried on the festive tide, we visit times past, people past

and hear again those dear loved voices.

Christmas is ritualistic autocue revelry

with Elizabeth at 3.oopm on Christmas Day.

Christmas means trying to avoid the American commercial Christmas

and the cynical British Christmas. Perhaps

I can find a new Utopian, peaceful, multicultural  Christmas.

Christmas is Dickens, stories round the fire, singing round the piano.

One person who wrote a fabulous line, took it home to keep. She told me a week later she had written a poem, the first she had ever done since she was at school. I could add:

Christmas is when you unknowingly give the gift of poetry.

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The Cratchits’ Christmas Dinner

This extract from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was greatly enjoyed at Weaver Hall Museum, Northwich, by a large audience who encouraged me with their attentiveness and quiet laughter.

What I love about this extract is the family has very little but the way Dickens describes it, you would think they were rich indeed. And so they are – in happiness and good humour, though not materially.

Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course-and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!

There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn’t believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn’t ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs Cratchit left the room alone- too nervous to bear witnesses- to take the pudding up and bring it in.

Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out. Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose  –  a supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed.

Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook’s next door to each other, with a laundress’s next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered-flushed, but smiling proudly-with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and belight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.

Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.

At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit’s elbow stood the family display of glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.

These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:

‘A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!’

Which all the family re-echoed.

‘God bless us every one!’ said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

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How to make excellent mince pies

Mince pies are like poems: you have to fill them with the best things, deeply packed. In their case the best mincemeat you can afford. Making your own is just not worth the trouble. Trust me, I did it once.

The ONLY pastry to use is shortcrust. And yes, you must make your own. Everyone knows how to do this – if you don’t, ask me in the comments box and I will explain. Two tricks I use however:

1) Add a sprinkle of nutmeg and cinnamon to your flour

2) Mix with MILK not water. It makes it easier to handle and then you can roll it out really thin.

You can roll out a little more after using the cutters to get your rounds. The thinner the pastry, the more delicate and yummy the pies. It’s quite nice to cut stars out for the top for some of them, for a change.

After they are baked, sift half of them with icing sugar. Not everyone likes this topping, so offer a choice.

If possible serve still warm. A little clotted cream adds an extra special touch but allow people to put their own on as it melts fast.

Home-made mince pies are millions of times nicer than the ones you buy in the shops. Go on, treat yourself.

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A Feast of Christmas Readings

Jo Bell and I will be perfoming together again on the evening of 8th December in Northwich Library (7.30-9pm). This is likely to be the last of Poets in the Library as the format and venue are set to change in the new year, when we will move to a pub and include a workshop beforehand. The reading on Wednesday is therefore extra special. It will be very Christmassy and include wine and mince pies.

The material will include lots of food related extracts as Jo and I love food. We look at Christmas past and include work by Charles Dickens, Alison Uttley and Thomas Hardy. There’s lots of interesting historical information Jo researched, and poems about Santa Claus, presents, and booze.

Here’s an example of the sort of thing we are offering:

From Alison Uttley’s Country Things

There was an interchange of mince-pies between friends. The housekeeper at the Castle sent from her storeroom a few mince-pies, very small and puffy and delicate. They were for gentlefolk and as we tasted them we could see them served on silver dishes to the Squire’s company. Our own mince-pies were large, and bursting with mincemeat. We made scores of mince-pies in patty pans of antique mould, and the mincemeat came from the big stone jar which stood on the pantry bench. Everybody had to eat one at Christmas, — carol singers, guisers, even the beggar who came to the door and the pedlar with his pack. There was friendly criticism of the mince-pies we received from the houses of our friends. We made our wishes as we ate them, and we compared their merits. There was rivalry among them, and discussions about puff pastry or short pastry. All these small presents were moving to and fro before Christmas, leading up to the great day, keeping us in a state of excitement, as we prepared for the birthday of the Holy Child. The giving of Christmas-boxes made a bond between all classes of society, we shared the same pleasures, we had the same expectations and joy over simple things.

There will also be a chance to buy some unsual Christmas presents and write a group poem which will be performed as a finale. All this for only £4, and £3 for concessions. Come on down.

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