I know I am not alone when I look back to my childhood and remember the seasons clearly defined, not just by weather, but by the produce and products available in the shops. But now hot cross buns are on sale at Christmas, and mincemeat and Christmas puddings reach the supermarket shelves at August Bank Holiday.
As I remember it, in our house, although we didn’t really celebrate them all, there was a clear progression from Hallowe’en to Guy Fawkes Night to Remembrance Day. Then there was a bit of a lull, as Christmas wasn’t to be mentioned until December.
In recent years I think that many UK cities have brought forward their Christmas lights anyway, to double up with Diwali celebrations, so we are now at the start of a two-month celebration that is best described as Winterval. It seemed we began even earlier this year this year, as everyone is concerned about how their mental health is suffering because of the pandemic and the lockdown, and the winter festivities are being heralded as a way to cheer ourselves up.
I’ve said often enough on this blog that I don’t “do” Christmas. But I do love a traditional Nativity scene.
In Spain, I used to create a new belén each year, varying according to the size and shape of the space available. It was only in later years that I included the scene of the angel visiting the shepherds but, from the beginning, I particularly liked mapping out the itinerary for the Reyes Magos. They rode their camel (Gaspar), horse (Melchior) and elephant (Balthazar) along a winding trail between mountains made of papel roca; most years, a tiny oasis surrounded by greenery made from offcuts from my houseplants offered a detour and the chance of rest and refreshment.
In my scene, there were all sorts of non-traditional elements to suggest that the journey was long and dangerous: a diminutive crocodile lurked under the palm trees; a devil-eyed goat or a tiny alabaster wild cat waited on the mountain ridges to tempt or to pounce; and a coal dragon slept curled on a bed of broken jewellery in the darkness of a cave. Some years the mountain summit was home to a giant nest; the roc itself never appeared, but there was a marble egg to suggest it wasn’t too far away.
But of course the important element of the whole diorama was the scene in the stable – the central misterio. However much you let your imagination wander and construct vignettes of the little town of Bethlehem or the journey of the Magi, you can’t have a nativity without the manger.
So this year, I was wondering about starting to collect a new set of figures here in the UK and went looking online to see if I could find any that I liked.
I know that I’ve talked about an all-inclusive Winterval celebration, and clearly have no qualms about depicting my own interpretation of certain elements of the Christmas story, but I am afraid there is a point where I draw the line.
Lovely as the wooden figures detailed below were, there is something altogether too secular about the description and I will not be buying them for my Christmas decorations this year.