The last red candle is burned, the cards come down, we eat the last piece of Christmas cake with the last glass of very delicious aged port. We skip breaking our teeth on the fève in the stodgy galette des rois, but I'm a stickler for the decorations, such as they are, coming down in time; not for us moulting Christmas trees, sad bits of tinsel and other tawdriness hanging about into February thank you very much.
To end the season, here are some lovely things made by others. I had these cozy and beautiful booties and bonnet for Christmas:
In fact I bought them myself early in December from Soize's stall at the marché de Noël at Ploeuc-sur-Lié near here. It was a lovely stall, loaded down with beautiful things she and BN had made, and in fact the whole market was really very good - I've seen some truly dismal marchés de Noël round here it must be said, but this one made me think perhaps they really might be getting the hang of it: it was cosy and bright with Christmassy music, hot food and drink and a good variety of nice merchandise. However, as she related, the trade was pitiful, not really worth the hours of time and work the stallholders put it, and poor Father Christmas sat sadly up on the stage with no one to talk to. Obviously they don't quite have the hang of it after all, at least not on the customers' side. But Soize was typically cheerful and not disheartened. I bought the hat and slippers (for a fairly derisory price but at least I appreciate the skill and effort that went into them) thinking I'd give them away as presents, but liked them so much I put them back in their pretty bag, and passed them to Tom telling him to give them to me on Christmas morning. Soize told me to pretend to be surprised when this happened.
We didn't do much gift giving this year, but as always there were parcels in the post from Tom's kids; M always sends us DVDs, which is a kind of interesting lucky dip; sometimes they're turkeys we've no taste for at all, often, as with Sherlock and Broadchurch, they're revelations which we'd never have thought to choose for ourselves, this year there were three films (they're more often tv series), which we've yet to sample. A always sends her dad marzipan in various shapes and forms which is a safe bet and very kind as it weighs a ton. K is more unpredictable; her parcel this year was very heavy, and turned out to include this little turned olive wood pot:
I've always loved olive wood, I hanker for a big lumpy unique pestle and mortar made from it, but desist from getting one because it would really only be for its visual beauty, we have a good working ceramic one, plus a mezzalune and board and an electric spice grinder, so it would simply be clutter. Olive wood also seems to have an emotional resonance, a memory I can't quite pin down, perhaps of objects shown by our kindly, churchy primary school teachers as being from 'the Holy Land', perhaps from the Mount of Olives itself, handled and spoken of with reverence, but fascinating to me then as now for their exotic, rich grain and figuring. This is perhaps Palestinian olive wood too. The base of the pot looks like a strange bird's head.
The loveliest thing about her parcel though, and the reason for its weightiness, was that it contained two substantial bags of whole cumin seeds. She knew, for Tom spoke about it when the family visited while we were in lodgings in the summer, that the stores of cumin and other spices, many of which she had sought out and brought over previously, were among the principal casualties of the house fire (their interesting savoury aroma mixing with the vile fumes of burning plastics, I remember noticing on waking) and that he had felt their loss keenly. K teaches English in England to people from all over the world, and likes nothing more than trying new flavours and learning about how they are created, and the finer and more obscure points of Asian cooking are an area where she and her dad have often bonded. The cumin seeds were an encouragement to him to start afresh.
And finally, Colin and Li Yi's Christmas video for 2016. I've still not ever met these two but feel as though I have, as they've been around in an exceptionally vivid way in the lives and conversations of my family for a while now. They've been sending me the videos ever since my niece forwarded me the first one, and I've posted them ever since I've been getting them (with the exception of last year's which I missed because we were in Iceland, I think, and one year they didn't make one because they were getting married or something). This one came a bit early because Colin went off to Malaysia, where he and Li Yi came from originally, and she came to my sister's for Christmas, much to everyone's delight there, I gather. Now in London, they live, work, volunteer at a soup kitchen, and endlessly make endlessly beautiful things, for a living, to share and give away, to do good in the world and simply for the love of doing so. Colin's website is here; though clearly very digitally savvy, he uses all kinds of very hands-on, low-tech media: architectural paintings done in coffee, an earlier Christmas video was made mostly using bits of pastry dough an other kitchen bits and pieces, and a lot of these layered paper-cut-out montage things, all done freehand with scalpels and a lot of loving patience.
I challenge you to watch this without getting a lump in the throat and without applauding its conclusion, delivered without preaching but with typical humour, gentleness and sincerity. Here's to 2017.