Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Sixteen

Day Sixteen

Chai

During the winter months hot drinks are even more important than at other times of the year, especially if you aren’t in full health. They can restore normal body temperature and keep you hydrated. Being a Brit, I love my tea but during the winter, most days I enjoy a mug of chai tea too. Chai (made the British way rather than the Indian way) is slightly spicy, with cinnamon, cardamoms and other delicious additions to the usual black tea, served usually with milk and sugar/honey. It’s warming and cheering; the spices have mild medicinal properties too so if you are feeling below par, chai might give you the extra fillip of ooomph to keep going and to help your body fight any bugs you might be subject to. You can buy chai tea bags too, for convenience; tea merchants Twinings do an excellent version. There are often also specialist Christmas teas that are really versions of chai, but marketed at the seasonal shoppers. If you like tea, give chai a chance to warm and cheer you on a chilly, dull, dark, dank winter day.

Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Twelve

Day Twelve

Birds in the garden

As winter arrives a variety of migrant birds arrive in Britain; not just the overwintering geese for whom our climate is like a spa holiday compared to their usual honking grounds, but familiar birds like blackbirds, robins and starlings, come from continental Europe and beyond to take advantage of our milder weather and our love of feeding the wild birds. Blackbirds from the continent can be recognised by their brighter yellow beaks. Murmurations of starlings coming to roost make winter evenings spectaculr events. The robins’ song is a challenge to a death match, fighting over good territory.

But it’s a simple and beautiful thing to watch visiting birds feeding on a bird table; after pairing off for breeding, goldfinches and other small birds now group together in flocks. Many will huddle together in great roosts, hidden away in your shrubbery, sharing body heat like minute, temperate penguins.

The robin has featured on British Christmas cards for a long time, but despite folklore linking the robin to Christ on the cross, the reason for their link to Christmas is more prosaic and amusing. Originally the first postal delivery men in this country wore bright red coats, and became known as Robin Redbreasts, and since greetings cards for Christmas were delivered by Robins, it soon became a jokey theme to use the birds on the cards. As a child I remember a book called The Christmas Robin about a little bird who ended up in a house and perched on the top of the tree and sang on Christmas day; the connection has now become so strong that the robin is the quintessential Christmas bird.

Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent day Four

Day Four

Candle-light

Ever since I was a very small child I have loved candles. In a time before I have many conscious memories, my father decided one year at Christmas that he would not put the usual electric fairy lights on the Christmas tree. So that year, he did things differently. He and my mother always used to wait till my brother and I went to bed on Christmas eve before putting up the tree and any decorations. That year, he went one step further. When we came down, excited to see if Father Christmas had been, Dad hurried to the living room; late the previous evening, he had fixed tiny candles to the branches of the Christmas tree. As we ate breakfast, Dad lit all the candles and called us in. I have no actual memory of this event; I was probably two or possibly three at the time. But it has become part of me now and I believe my love of candle-light originates there. My mum hates candles and is scared of things catching fire, so there were few opportunities during my childhood to enjoy them (you can’t count the time of the three day week, power cuts and the so-called winter of discontent; candles were hardly a delight during those times!)

Candles add magic to every day life; they soften and sweeten even the most mundane of events. They make eyes sparkle and faces become more beautiful and mysterious. I would not like to rely on them alone for light, but being able to choose them to beautify a room is a special delight. Beeswax candles make the most glorious of candles, the light they shed being especially golden and mellow, and the added bonus is the scent of honey and propolis that they exude as they burn. One of these days I’ll make some with our own beeswax.

Things of Winter Beauty and Wonder: Advent Day Two.

Day Two:

Being safe from the storms.

There’s rain lashing against the windows, pouring in torrents off the roof, and the wind is howling like a banshee, whistling through every crack and crevice. The house is cosy, warm and a haven from the storm. I have sufficient food to last days without needing to go out. I can wrap myself up in a soft blanket and doze quietly, or read, or listen to music or watch television. I am safe from the storms.