Sunday, 23 December 2012

23rd December - The Orphans

Today is the penultimate day of Blogvent, and I have been out and about all day on Christmas business.  I was at a Farmers Market this morning, and doing some shocking shopping this afternoon, finally getting hold of little bottles to decant my home-made sloe gin into.  The weather has been clement, thank goodness, and we got a surprising amount done, which means tomorrow I can stay at home baking.  So what image have I chosen for my last-but-one blogvent post?

The Orphans (1870) Philip Hermogenes Calderon
There are a couple of questions I have about this picture.  Firstly, why do the orphans stand in the snow and 'busk' while their clothes seem to be of quite good quality? Both are spick and span and clean, so although they are orphans, they are rather well kept.  The little girl in the red tights has a very classy shawl wrapped around her, and both are wearing neat little hats.

Yes, I need to mention the harp. Where in God's name did they get hold of a harp?  Plus, when you go busking in the snow, you don't usually drag a giant musical instrument with you.  The damn thing is bigger than both kids, and not exactly portable in the snow.  Mind you, it does give you a bit of an edge in the busking stakes.  It beats a guitar hands down.

Faith, Hope and Love M L Macomber
Okay, so we'll assume that those two moppets didn't drag the harp into the street to play a couple of choruses of 'Roll Out the Barrel'.  Maybe it's meant to be symbolic - those two are actually angels, unnoticed in the human world, even with a ruddy big harp.  They don't appear to be asking for money, there is no hat or bowl for the money.  Usually if you see some innocent young 'un with a harp, she tends to be a celestial being, like the lady in blue, above.  There is something unreal and cloud-like about the background, as if the two are in heaven, all misty and, well, like you'd expect.  When I first saw the image I thought it was unfinished, but then I noticed the little buried branch behind the girls, and realised that they are the point of vivid clarity in the sea of swirling snow.  The pair of them stand out so clearly, the pink of the shawl, the red tights, the shine of the wood, and all around them is a powder screen, a world under a blanket of Winter.  Their expressions are oddly blank, or introspective, fixed on some inner point.  They are orphans, so possibly they are thinking of their parents, and maybe it's something about the harp that brings their memories back as clear as they are in front of us.

Christmas is a time to remember, a time for recollection so strong that you lose any notion of the present as you wander lost in the landscape of the past.  Winter is the season of reminiscence, of settling to some memory of times before.  Each item of Christmas holds a bundle of history, it becomes impossible not to remember people no longer with us as I unwrap our tree ornaments, gathered over many years.  I go through rituals with Lily that my own mother went through with me, I cook the same food, sing the same songs, plan the same time spent alone and with friends and family.  I watch the same films, bake croissants, drive the plastic stakes of little plastic robins into the Christmas cake which I cook and ice with royal icing, hard and crisp as snow.  Christmas is a time of repetition, made bittersweet by absence, when you become the person who taught you the rituals, and you in turn pass them down to the person will one day feel your absence as she too passes them down.

See you tomorrow.


  1. Beautifully said, Kirsty. While I am immersed in work and won't execute any of the recipes and rituals of my mother for just my dear husband and I, it's easy to close my eyes and remember the smallest details of Mom's Christmas routine. I treasure those memories, and it's wonderful that you now share your special memories with Lily. Havd a wonderful holiday!

  2. That last paragraph - so beautiful ... *sniff*

  3. Something about Christmas can be both happy and sad. Cake has been badly iced and mince pies are all boxed up for tomorrow, so I think we're ready to eat until we're fat as geese. My mother would be proud!


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