a christmas memory

12:06 PM

As I sat at the table today with my almost three year old covering oranges in cloves, the spicy scent all over our fingers, my mind wandered to a memory tucked far away...
When I was eight years old and we were still living in England my parents decided to surprise us with a Christmas getaway. We drove for hours over hills dusted with snow and peppered with sheep. As dusk began to descend and bathe the hills in a periwinkle blue we arrived in Canterbury. It was a magical little town and I'm sure to my grown up eyes it would look like a fairytale but being a child at the time and somewhat spoiled by living in Oxford for a few years it looked very much like where we had come from. Nevertheless, my brother and I were bubbling over with excitement. After all it was almost Christmas!!
We stayed in a tiny unimpressive home. My parents had waited until the last minute to book something and being immigrant students they didn't have a lot of money in the first place. But my father always had the ability to create ambiance and make anything feel festive. Together with mum they decorated the place with homemade paper garlands, baked a special cake that daddy bedecked with red and green marzipan. Christmas music boomed from our trusty red radio and one could hear the familiar crunch of wrapping paper being lovingly wrapped around packages.
On Christmas eve our parents decided to take us to the local Episcopal church for their mass. We got bundled up and made our way through town. The sky was black but sparkling with stars (I always enjoyed star gazing in the country, it was as if they really pulled out all the stops) and although it was very late the the town was buzzing. As we neared the glowing church we saw people pouring in through the open doors. The faint sound of singing could be heard too.
It was the most beautiful church I've ever seen. Stained glass windows projecting images of the nativity onto the snow. Century old doors heaving under the weight of giant fragrant wreaths topped with the most lustrous red bows. Inside the church was aglow with candles - everywhere. You were handed one as soon as you walked in and they were everywhere you looked, melting all around, the smell of wax mixing with pine and citrus. I've never felt the spirit of Christmas more acutely than I did that night...
A wonderful and quick (always important when you're eight years old) liturgy was said and then we were regaled with hymns by the most angelic boys choir for the remainder of the night. They wrapped up their program with a rendition of Silent Night and we began to be ushered outside. As we made our way out of the church we were each gifted an orange adorned with cloves and small red bow. I'll never forget the smell as long as I live.
Walking home and leaving behind the last notes of "Christ the Savior is bornnn..." I cradled my orange and thought about how no matter what was waiting for me inside the pretty wrapping paper I had already had the best Christmas ever. My heart was so full of gratitude and I felt peace envelope me, all of us actually. Inside our warm temporary little home we discarded our coats and scarves and hats but the smiles remained well into the evening of even the next day.
All these years later my heart still skips a beat when I smell that familiar scent of citrus and cloves...

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