Warm Cider And Candlelit Caroling—Christmas In The Cotswolds
Outside it’s an unseasonably warm 57 degrees Fahrenheit, a near record-breaking temperature for December in the UK. The skies are grey, the air is damp, and there’s no sign of a single flake of snow this side of the Alps.
We haven’t let any of that put us off choosing a sweet-smelling Christmas tree from our local grower in the heart of the Gloucestershire countryside and generally getting in the mood with visits to Christmas markets, baking Christmas cookies, and putting up our eclectic collection of decorations gathered from around the world.
All around us neighbors are going flat out decorating their homes with twinkling lights, something that the Great British public has taken to with tremendous zeal over the last few years. When I was growing up all you’d see was a holly wreath on each door with the occasional red bauble. Nowadays it’s much more glitzy. I admit I prefer the understated, slightly puritanical version.
We’ve lived in a few countries, and our Christmas tree and decorations reflect that. We have Caga Tió, the pooping log from Catalonia, a fairy on top of the tree from France, a Santa bauble or two from Mexico, Panama, and Costa Rica, window decorations from the United States, and straggly little Welsh elves from my childhood, all alongside a new crop of decorations made by local crafters here in the Cotswolds.
I collected a few more handmade goodies at a Christmas fair held last weekend at Newark Park. A beautiful Tudor hunting lodge, Newark Lodge was built in the 1550s by Sir Nicholas Poyntz, courtier to Henry VIII. Over the centuries it fell in and out of disrepair, finally being rescued in 1972 by the late Texan architect Robert Parsons. Visitors to the fair are allowed to wonder through the lodge, sipping mulled wine and marveling at the beautifully decorated rooms.
Back to the 21st century… Last night Santa came by on the back of a flatbed truck blasting out jingle bells as he went from house to house collecting for the local pre-school’s renovation project. It was good to see old Mr. Chalmers still going strong, decked out in his white beard and red suit.
As he left, we headed out to visit the German Christmas market in the Roman spa town of Bath. There’s a good mix of cultures! Wafts of glühwein, warmed local cider, roasted chestnuts, Somerset lavender, grilled local beefsteak sandwiches, candles, and Cornish blue cheese assailed our noses.
As we ate, drank, bought gifts, and wondered up and down the rows of little wooden chalets, it occurred to me that this bit of imported European culture looked a little incongruous up against the walls of the Roman baths and the white Cotswold stone of the Georgian homes. Perhaps the Georgians felt the same way when they sat sipping the curative waters of this spa town, looking over the remains of the Romans’ occupation. (By the way, the curative waters can still be drunk today. Take my word for it, though, glühwein is better!)
Last weekend, as we headed into the final countdown to Christmas, the local church, built in the 13th century, hosted a candlelit carol service, as it does every year. Practically the entire village walked up the hill to gather round, inside and out. St. James is a little church that’s largely unused. It was replaced in 1879 by the new St. Johns, when the local population moved down the hill away from sheep farming to be closer to the train station and a link to jobs in nearby cities.
Everyone is invited to the carol service each year, whether you are a believer or not. Our local vicar sees it as a great opportunity to share goodwill and cheer and a jolly good Christmas sing-song.
“Glad tidings of comfort and joy…”
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