On Sunday night I left my comfy chair beside our fireplace to attend a concert in Belfast. Relaxing into my seat in the concert hall, I savoured I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas sung by a classical trio. I’m sure you’ve heard the song somewhere; it is considered the best selling single of all time. And it’s a song that always stirs memories for me.
It’s been twenty-five years since I spent Christmas in Canada, my homeland, but the song instantly takes me back to cold, crisp winter evenings on a quiet residential street blanketed by a cover of undisturbed snow. As I stepped out of our house after a fresh snowfall, I felt the cold nipping at my fingers and curling in under the collar of my jacket as flakes of snow tickled my cheeks. All around me lights twinkled on neighbours’ houses, bouncing off snow that had settled on the ground to glint like diamonds. The song also takes me back to sleigh rides through the countryside on a flatbed wagon piled high with hay and pulled by a team of four draught horses, their bells jingling as the wagon wheels crunched over hard packed snow. Everything always seemed magical after it snowed.
In our house a small tree stood in the corner of the living room and tiny striped stockings hung on the rocking chair beside it; the room was festooned with holly and tinsel. At the farm after our sleigh ride a blazing bonfire warmed the farmyard; we huddled as close to it as we dared until the heat stung our legs and sparks darting from the crackling logs bit into our faces and hands.
No matter where I was, tucked up in our cosy house or at the farm, laughter, camaraderie and love enveloped me. Family and friends were there.
Since I moved to Britain I’ve rarely seen snow on Christmas Day. When it happens there’s excitement but also trepidation as folk deal with the surprise. On Christmas night we often go for a stroll to counter the excesses of holiday meals. As we walk through the Fermanagh countryside, the air is cool and damp and the lane is bare; green fields surround me. In the dark, stars twinkle brightly above us, the darkness a canvas for the display in the sky. The hedges along the lane are grey shadows against the blackness. Deer whistle in the forest behind our farm. I hear the steady thump of our boots on the tarmac.
When we return home I’m greeted by a house festooned with decorations and other items that are intricately part of Christmas for me. Some of them I brought with me from my home in Toronto, including a set of colourful bells on a bright green braided rope that a Dutch aunt brought to Canada with her, fragile tree baubles that belonged to my mother and even the rocking chair that sat in our Toronto living room and was crafted at my grandfather’s farm in Western Canada long before I was born.
And I’m still surrounded by family and friends. The family are my husband’s family and the friends are ones I’ve made since I moved across the Atlantic – not childhood friends but not so very new after a quarter of a century.
I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas was first sung by Bing Crosby on Christmas Day in 1941. Although it wasn’t an immediate hit, as Christmas approached the next year it topped the ‘Your Hit Parade’ chart in America. It was especially popular with service men and women and the Armed Forces Network was flooded with requests to play it. Why? Probably because it echoed their longing for home mixed with their memories of where they came from. At a time when the world was at war people wanted something familiar and comforting to cling to.
My curiosity was piqued when I stumbled across this connection between the song and the Second World War. Since I began writing The Yankee Years series, set in World War II County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland this year, I’m always keen to discover interesting snippets of information about the era. They fascinate me and these facts add authenticity and sparkle to my stories. So far references to the song haven’t found their way into any of my stories – but you never know. They might yet.
It seems that no matter which era we live in, we gravitate toward what we find familiar and comforting. I enjoy being surrounded by decorations that have been passed down through my family, eating the same special treats and spending time with the people who are important to me each year. And I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels this way.
Family, friends and readers, where ever you are, I’d like to take this time to wish you a holiday season filled with all that warms, comforts and uplifts you. Wishing you love, laughter, family and friends at Christmas and always. Merry Christmas!