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Open Features: Merry Christmas

Anne Steward brings a story to match the mood of this special day.

The rough wooden door banged open and a great bushy fir tree staggered in, clasped by Mr. Wilkins, red faced and smiling.

“What in the world…Mr. Wilkins!” said his dumpling of a wife, “I thought you were going for our Yule Log. We can’t burn that. It’s green and will spit and spark. What were you thinking of!”

“Now then, Mother,” said the bony smiling man, “this is 1842, you know. I thought we’d be in fashion, this year. If it’s good enough for the Queen of England, then it’s good enough for my Queenie! Ain’t that right, children?”

Two tiny girls looked open mouthed as their father planted the tree in a bucket in the middle of the room and stood back for their reaction.

“Is that what they have in the palace?” asked Milly, “a tree like that on Christmas Eve?”

“Yes, my love. Doesn’t it smell just grand?”

“But, what to do with it?” asked Queenie, “Do we just look at it?”

“No, Mother,” said Henry Wilkins, with a touch of impatience. He had expected more of a welcome for his offering. He would still have to go and find a log big enough to keep them cosy over Christmas Day, but had not been able to contain his excitement over his find. A tree just the right size to fit in their kitchen.

“At the palace they’ll be dressing theirs up with…with…candles..”

“And ribbons?” asked Susan.

“And apples?” joined in Milly.

“That’s the spirit, girls! You help your Mother to make the tree really pretty while I go and find our log. Where’s our Tom?”

“He’s taken the goose to the bakers to be cooked for tomorrow. He said he’ll bring some bread back with him. I’ve kept back the giblets for our broth tonight,” said Queenie.

“And I peeled the carrots and swedes. The pot is full to the top!”

“Is that so, our Millie,” said her father, stroking her silky hair.

“Off you go, time’s racing. And you’ve given me another task to do,” said Queenie crossly. She was hot and bothered.

Henry gave her a smacking kiss and she threw her dish cloth at him as he made for the door. But she was laughing as she swung the heavy pot of broth over the fire.

While supper was cooking she and her girls searched for scraps of bright ribbon and polished red apples to cheer the tree. They tied on gingerbread stars with twists of wool, and fixed small white candles to the tips of the branches.

Tom came home laden with holly, all festive with shiny red berries. The girls giggled at his surprised face.

“What’s this, Ma?” he said, mouth agape.

“It’s a tree for Christmas that your father brought for us.”

“It’s just splendid,” he said, “just like the one in the palace. Mr. Jo showed me the picture in the paper.”

Henry came back to a warm house full of the fragrance of pine and rich goose broth.

The family stood round their tree and marvelled. It was as though they had always had such a tree at Christmas, and always would.

Just on cue there was a rap at the door and the wassailler’s song welcomed the coming Christ Child.

“There’s enough to share,” said Queenie, taking a bowl to the door for the poor souls who were less fortunate than them. The ragged children tore the bread and sopped up the nourishing broth, eyes wide at the sight of the tree. Milly gave them each a gingerbread star and a big smile.

Henry took his rightful place on the chair, Queenie on her stool, and the children sat on the hearth for their supper.

God was thanked, and the Queen was toasted, and all was well in the Wilkins’ household.

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