Countdown to Christmas

Christmas is coming,

The geese are getting fat,

Please put a penny

In the old man’s hat.

Next Sunday Christmas is upon us and 2016 will be nearing an end. How surreal is that! It seems like yesterday I was popping a cork to welcome in this year and now I am preparing myself to let it go.

What a tumultuous year it has been.

But Christmas is coming and, despite not a fattening goose in sight, it promises to be a good one for me. Our small family will have an early Christmas lunch by the beach. I’m secretly pleased we are dining out and I won’t have to cook or clean up. The time will be better spent playing with my grandson, who will no doubt run rings around me. He is one. On Christmas day, friends from interstate arrive and we have decided platters of cold meats, cheeses, olives, etc are the best plan for grazing through the day. Keep it simple and enjoy – my motto for any festivity. There will be plenty of food, plenty of drink, plenty of conversation and jokes and goodwill.

We are lucky.

Our family might be small, but we love and care for each other. Even though we are spread across the country, we regularly stay in touch. Thank goodness for social media which makes short messages and photos so much easier to send to each other. And, although we mostly message each other, we also talk to each other via phone or Skype.

I am fortunate to have awesome friends who are also spread across the country. But, despite geographical challenges, we make a point of keeping in touch one way or another. We share our lives and lend our support when needs be.

However, especially at this time of year, I am reminded of those who don’t have families, or whose families are torn apart. I think of those who are friendless and lonely. Those who don’t have food, or drink, or even a home in which to live, let alone spend Christmas. The sick, the elderly, the frail, the homeless, the outcasts, the victims of violence, the refugees; spare a thought for them. Even better, spare a penny or two. Those of us who can afford to pile our Christmas tables with food, should be able to donate enough pennies to the charity of our choice, to feed at least one person.

If you haven’t got a penny,

A ha’penny will do.

Whatever you can afford to give this holiday season, be it a thousand dollars or only one, please give it to someone who is in need. It isn’t too late. It is never too late to share some goodwill.

If you haven’t got a ha’penny,

Then God bless you.

And if you are struggling in any way this Christmas, my heart goes out to you. It isn’t much to offer but Fra Giovanni’s Christmas Prayer has always been my favourite through difficult times:

I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much that, while I cannot give, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take Heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present moment. Take Peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take Joy!

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.

Two weeks until Christmas

I have absolutely no idea what to blog about today. So, I thought I would write about how close we are to Christmas and how ill prepared I am. Two weeks to go and I’ve only just put my Christmas tree on the mantelpiece. Yes, you read it correctly. My Christmas tree is so small I sit it on the mantelpiece. Firstly, I pull it out of the paper bag in which it is stored and unwrap it from the layer of bubble wrap. It comes with an attached star and is covered with a glittery effect, so the only decoration it needs is a red bird. The red bird on the Christmas tree is a family tradition. I do not know where or when it originated, I only know it is meant to bring luck and my tree looks incomplete without the red bird. Last year my mantelpiece looked bare, the small tree marooned in the middle of an expanse of white, centred between the bottom of two paintings. So, I bought a couple of artificial twigs of holly and ivy, both of which are now sprawled next to the tree.

Of course, the tree is too small and too squat for any presents to fit under it, if I had managed to buy presents. I have bought a couple of them, the Kris Kringle present for one. I won’t mention what I bought or who it was for, just in case one of my family is reading this. Although, I don’t for one moment believe they will. And I bought a small gift for my grandson. Small because the large gift has already arrived at his house, which is on the other side of the country. Small also because his parents must work out how to pack everything after New Year when they will head back home again. But I still have more presents to buy and I would love to have some sort of divine inspiration as to what to get.

Buying presents, especially for occasions such as Christmas, is not only a necessity but also an art. Or so I believe. It can sometimes take me weeks, or even months to decide upon what I think is the correct gift for each person. I’m not always right with my choice. But the thought is there, along with the hours of pounding pavements and forcing my way through maddening crowds. There is something about gift giving holidays which turn everyone slightly crazy, the desperate ones grabbing for the last bargain on the shelf or shouldering their way to the special on Christmas crackers.

Christmas crackers for the table. The table which will display the food I have yet to think of, let alone buy. I wish a Christmas elf would quietly sort out the menu for the day and indeed the entire week. But that is most likely the topic for another post.

The Answer is Always Books

Christmas this year and my family has decided to do a Kris Kringle. We have a limit of $50 to spend on whoever we have drawn out. I’m not going to mention whose name I drew, just in case they are reading this. But if any of you just happen to be wondering what I might like – the answer is always books. OK, sometimes the answer is a book voucher, but in the end, it equates to books.

I can never read enough, or find enough time for reading. I am grateful for my journey to and from work on public transport, because it is the time I can spend on reading. I am grateful for my Kindle, because it can hold so many books and is lightweight and compact, perfect for my handbag.

At the moment I’m reading my second Geoff Dyer book, “Yoga for People who can’t be Bothered to do it”, having thoroughly enjoyed “Out of Sheer Rage”. This year I also read and loved “The Girl on the Train” and “The Penguin Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford” which I added to my Kindle after an episode of ABC’s The Book Club. I’ve also enjoyed reading Anna Funder’s “All that I Am” and “Stasiland” and the first three of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiographies.

Over the last few years I’ve also read several books as research for my memoir. Some of the books, such as “A Fifty-Year Silence” by Miranda Richmond Mouillot, “What did you do in the War, Daddy” by Sabine Reichel and “Dancing on One Foot: Growing up in Nazi Germany” by Shanti Elke Bannwart, I read because of their content. Others, such as “The Dangerous Bride” by Lee Kofman and “Reckoning” by Magda Szubanski, I read for their style, for a glimpse of how memoirs should be written.

I have a list of books I feel I should read, although I might have to force myself. Classics by authors such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Nabokov. Some I have read many years ago, and really should revisit. Some I began to read but, through boredom or lack of interest, never finished. Then there are the books I should read which I am looking forward to, like anything I haven’t already read by Deepak Chopra, Bill Bryson, Virginia Woolf and Margaret Attwood.

However, my other list excites me far more. The list of books I want to read, some by authors I know and others I have never heard of. Paulo Coelho’s new book “The Spy: A Novel” is one of these. I have several Coelho books and have enjoyed them all.  “On the Blue Train” by Kristel Thornell looks fascinating, especially as I have always liked Agatha Christie. Katherine Brabon’s “The Memory Artist” sounds interesting as does “Secondhand Time” by Svetlana Alexievitch, and I’ve heard plenty of good things about Zadie Smith. In fact, every day I find more books to add to this list, more than I will ever have time to read.

So remember – the answer is books – always books.