Open Country by Erica Hume Niven

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The snow fell during the night. The white smattering did not last the day before the clouds smudged the light and rain fell into the snowy ground whence it dissipated – all moisture fell away. Dry cold winds followed.

The day was still only at noon. As I looked at the brown ground I thought how temporal beautiful things can be – the snow melting, a friend’s smile, a wave drawing back through pebbles.

I remembered being in China and watching a man writing on the terracotta tiles around a park’s promenade. He was writing with water; before he started a new line the line above was evaporating, the words in water becoming one again with the air.

With these contemplations I drove to my sister’s considering heated words with a friend. We had thrown water on the words before I left – putting out flames that were threatening dislike.

At peace with myself I arrived at Ramwells into the warmth of my sister and brother-in-laws house. When the girls came home from school I became part of the taxiing, feeding, bathing and bedtime routines.

The following evening I was sitting in the elegant hall of Bolton School girls’ division for my older niece’s first carol service at her new school. As people shuffled about finding seats and talking to parents they know, I took time to observe the Victorian Gothic windows and the high oak-vaulted ceiling.

Each beam end had a white angel made simply of card that, tilted, looked down on the congregation. Each candelabrum had silver strips hanging from it that twinkled as the room’s bubbling breath created movement in the air.

The choirs, made up of different school years, sang carols that filled the huge space. This was a very atmospheric service and again I was moved by an unexpected compilation which was reverent and emotive. For the first time in my life I sang a hymn in Latin, Adeste Fideles ... Venite adoremus Dominum.

Then, a few days later, I am seated in quite different surroundings – Walmsley Primary School. The title of year 3 and 4’s Christmas play is large and bright, projected on to the wall, designed by one of the children.

Babushka is a Russian Christmas folktale about a woman who is persuaded that the birth of Jesus is a special event. She is reticent at first, but eventually sets out on her journey to Bethlehem. On the way she gives a shawl to a cold shepherd, water to an old lady and a toy to a sobbing child.

Realising she has given away her gifts for the baby she decides not to enter the stable. But Mary sees her and enquires why she does not come in. Babushka tells her that she has given away her gifts but Mary, played by my niece, Rosalyn says: “When you show love to another person, you show love to Jesus. He is so grateful for the love and gifts you have brought him this day.”

My eyes have welled up and in my head The Chamber Choir are singing into the night: “In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan ... yet want can I give Him: give him my heart.”

Christmas should be a time of love and giving, but it seems it is now the season for Wii games and other gadgets of the latest technology. We put too much pressure on ourselves at this time of year and we have an internal struggle about what is the right thing to do.

Maybe we should concentrate on love and sharing throughout the year rather than focusing in a great flurry of stress on the Christmas season. People talk about the kindness of strangers. I understand this phrase completely and with some shame. For those closest to us receive all our angst and anger, but we can smile and give compliments freely in the passing.

Even when pride is threatening to win over love, stop and think and say sorry, even if you think it will choke you.