I felt called to stay in London for Christmas and I’ve been enjoying the festivities with my housemates who are Indian and Latin American and very far from home.
London is transformed at Christmas – the usually colourful city fades and is replaced by a Victorian ghost town. The streets are no longer teeming with seas of people; the frazzled business men and tourists have vanished. The streets are so empty that you can see the pavement stretch out before you and there’s that strange sound of silence.
Kensington becomes like an abandoned film set that was once used for some period drama like Howard’s End or Upstairs Downstairs. The shadowy houses have a look of broken light bulbs and there is not one wreath or Christmas tree in sight. During the week from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, you can hear birdsong and the wind blowing old newspapers down streets in this international city. It verily is like time has stood still and stopped. Time will begin again in early January. I think. But in the meantime, it’s calming to be in the midst of such stillness.
London may be the city that Christmas forgot, but the season is always what you make of it. Where I live, we have a round, plump Christmas tree that is draped with red tinsel and red fairy lights.
On Christmas Eve we gathered for a dinner of salmon. I was delighted when my friend Taru Sugandha, asked me if she could accompany me to Christmas Day Mass.
Some of us had the bright idea of staying up all night on Christmas Eve, albeit one of my intentions was that if I stayed up all night, then I wouldn’t be late for Mass the next day! I dozed off at 5 am, after exhausting all the Christmas songs.
Taru joined me for 9am Tridentine Mass at the Oratory, which was bedecked in velvet-petal red roses. Taru is a Hindu and this was her first time at a Latin Mass, after which she said, ‘it was so grand…this Mass is something that every human being should experience…I felt invigorated after the Mass’
After the main Mass, we wandered into the side chapel to see the crib. To the right of the crib, we stumbled upon Fr Rupert who was offering a private Mass, bowing low offering the prayers at the foot the altar of St Thomas More.
We had a delicious Christmas lunch of roast turkey and Jack Daniels spliced Christmas pudding. We turned off the lights, and I had the job of making the pudding ‘light up’, of putting the match to the surface of the cake and watching the blue flame dance around the pudding. Afterwards, we visited a few sick people who were unable to leave their flats because of sudden winter illnesses.
I was the recipient of some very thoughtful gifts from my generous family and friends, which were a delightful mix of the religious and secular, as well as a red hat that is both religious and secular; religious because red is the colour of martyrs and secular because it may be worn for warmth.
A friend gave me a blessed Rosary from the Vatican. The colour of the Rosary also coordinates with many outfits; it's an absolute priority that these rosary beads hanging from my hands match my purple skirt :-)
A box of goodies had arrived earlier in the week from my mum. I shook it and heard a jingle. I saved opening my presents for St Stephen’s Day, as a way of making the excitement of Christmas last. Some other very thoughtful gifts included a key-ring-of-a-dog to remind me of my beloved sheepdog, Polly; the dog who I believe got a cure from St Benedict.
But the highlight of all my presents was this coat; it fits perfectly and snugly, and was designed by my fashion-designer mum and then tailored for me. It reminds me of the coats that late 1940’s and 1950’s journalists used to wear. It has a shawl collar, small waist and full flair in the style of Dior’s post World War II ‘New Look’, when clothes were made to rejoice in the new abundance of fabric after the restrictions and ersatz cloth of the war years. It's made from Italian wool and the lining is raw silk. Forgive my vanity in posting a picture of myself in my mum’s coat; but I think you’ll agree that the coat is spectacular. You can see a tiny bit of snow dusting me in the photo below, we might have a white January yet.