Christmas Celebrations with Historical Fiction Author M.M. Bennetts
Christmas Celebrations from Authors Around the World is Literarily Speaking’s newest features. We ask authors “What’s it like at your house over the holidays?” Today we welcome M.M. Bennetts, author of the historical fiction novel, Of Honest Fame (Diiarts)!
In the country market town where I live, Christmas hasn’t changed all that much since the end of the Second World War.
Christmas for our family is about the family. And books. And music. We don’t travel–life 364 days a year is too hectic as it is.
In the run-up to the 25th, we will have been listening to Renaissance Christmas music on cds by the Tallis Scholars, the Boston Camerata (everyone’s favourite), The Messiah, and yes, Bing Crosby and Tony Bennett as well as the softer, more contemplative piano music of David Lanz.
The Renaissance carols are our delight though–back then they still had such a sense of wonder and vivid enthusiasm about the whole thing.
On Christmas Eve, at the stable where we ride, there is always a Christmas performance with the horses being ridden in formation to Christmas carols. The horses have tinsel woven into their tails and manes, the riders are costumed and it’s all just an absolute delight–the very best.
Of course, it’s always bitterly cold, but the horses are fantastic and wow everyone with their precision and neat stepping. Then afterward, there’s a bit of a party.
When we return home, and after we’ve thawed, the younger children start carrying the wrapped presents in to arrange them about the base of the Christmas tree in the Drawing Room.
Though they may be growing up, their excitement hasn’t much waned. They will have been hopping from foot to foot all afternoon waiting for the homecoming of their elder siblings, who will be greeted with rapture and an outburst of chatter that sends the dogs scurrying off to their beds.
As the evening progresses, and more presents appear under the tree, I’ll light the fire in the hearth, a plate of Austrian nut cookies and a carrot for the reindeer will be arranged on the sideboard for Father Christmas, and then we’ll settle.
Still, with the children near grown, I read two books aloud: A Night Before Christmas by C. Clement Moore, and Bright Christmas by Andrew Clements.
Protesting, the younger ones go to bed and undoubtedly do not sleep for a while. The others may wander out through the quiet of the dark and decorated streets to the Midnight service at the Abbey; the Beloved stuffs the turkey and gets it into the oven to slow roast overnight.
In the morning, I’m always up first to let the dogs out, to light the fire in the Drawing Room and put on the kettle for the morning tea. Then I go to wake the children. The youngest still likes to be led to the tree, or even carried.
While the others are making their way downstairs, rubbing their faces, downing that first mug of the necessary oolong, there will be a certain eyeing up of all that has appeared overnight, courtesy of the unseen ‘how does he do it?’ Father Christmas.
Having been jolted awake thanks to a mug or two of strong tea, we the parents watch while stockings are unloaded and the contents unwrapped and exclaimed over.
Cinnamon rolls make their way into the oven, and over the course of the next couple of hours, all the presents are unwrapped, sometimes to a mixture of tears and laughing which we call ‘both-ing’. We do have a family tradition of writing epigrams or odd clues on the tags, so reading these aloud and puzzling over the contents is a great part of the amusement.
At some point in the morning, the Abbey bells will start to peal, ringing the Christmas changes. This is the brightest sound in the world, carrying well in the cold December air, and every year, we stop and stand near an open door, just to listen.
Then–and this will sound particularly idle–I generally return to bed while the Beloved gets on with the preparation of Christmas lunch. (I am particularly useless and helpless in the kitchen, so this suits everyone. And unlike P.G. Wodehouse, I do not write on Christmas Day.) The children collect their booty to go off and do whatever daughters do with dolls and books and new jim-jams; possibly they also clamber back into their beds with their new books.
Later when I awaken and come down again, bathed and civilised at last, it is always to find the Beloved, seated in front of a roaring fire, reading one from the stack of newly given and joyfully received books–there’ll be a pile of them, all history or historical fiction, beside the chair–or more likely, having just finished the first one, and starting in on the second.
We have Christmas lunch then around half-past three–turkey and stuffing, cranberry-pear relish, scalloped apples, roast potatoes and parsnips, pumpkin pie, Buche de Noel and Austrian nut cookies. And much laughter.
Later, we take the dogs for a walk by the river. The children generally refuse to accompany–they’re far too busy, ha ha. And as afternoon blends into evening, and the whole town is quiet, we may watch a movie together or just sit together in the Drawing Room where the fire will have been burning all day, just looking at the Christmas tree, admiring it.
Then, on Boxing Day, there will undoubtedly be a long ride in the cold or rain off across the Downs with friends. And this too, is bliss.
Educated at Boston University and St Andrews, M.M. Bennetts is a specialist in the economic, social and military history of Napoleonic Europe. The author is a keen cross-country and dressage rider, as well as an accomplished pianist, regularly performing music of the era as both a soloist and accompanist. Bennetts is a long-standing book critic for The Christian Science Monitor.
The author is married and lives in England.
Bennetts’ latest book is Of Honest Fame.
You can visit the author’s website at www.mmbennetts.com.