Thursday, December 22, 2005

Due South
By Mark Entwistle
The Southern Reporter
Selkirk, The Borders
Scotland

Entwhistle household in full Christmas swing

With just over a week to go, Christmas preparations are in full swing in the Entwistle household here in Scotland.

On Friday evening, my wife and I went to buy a Christmas tree, from a nursery near Melrose, about 15 miles from our home.

Rows and rows of pine trees, all in their plastic mesh tubes were all stood at attention as we entered the floodlit premises.

We had a choice of four varieties - Norway Spruce, Nordmann Fir, Noble Fir or Lodge Pole Pine. We opted for the latter, complete with pine cones, and after getting it to fit into our Land Rover, off we went.

And our choice of tree has brought a touch of North America to our home this Christmas.

In the wild, this conifer grows in western North America from Alaska down to California along the Pacific seaboard and on the mountain ranges inland.

Mature lodge pole pine trees grow to 30 metres. It was introduced to the UK in 1855 and growers like its resistance to pests and its ability to grow well on poor wet soils.

The native people selected its strong straight tree trunks for building their dwellings - hence its name.

The decorating stage was left until the next day, as we were looking after my 7-year-old nephew, Joel, while his parents were at a company Christmas bash.

So, young Joel was roped into helping decorate and, between bouts of wrapping himself in tinsel and waging intergalactic warfare against Star Wars stormtroopers on the Playstation, he was very helpful - especially when someone small was needed to crawl underneath the tree!

They say Christmas is a time for children, but I disagree. Because adults get just as much pleasure out of seeing the children have so much fun as the children do themselves.

My nephew also helped out with some pre-Yuletide culinary preparations, when he assisted my wife, Ally, in making her Christmas pudding mix.

Christmas pudding is traditionally made on Stir-up Sunday, which is the last Sunday before Advent.

The last Sunday of the Church Year, or the Sunday before Advent, is often called ‘Stir-up Sunday.’ The term comes from the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549.

Stir-up Sunday is traditional on this day for everyone in the family to take a turn at stirring the Christmas pudding, whilst making a wish.

A proper Christmas pudding is always stirred from East to West in honour of the three Wise Men.

A Christmas pudding is traditionally made with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and His Disciples.

Every member of the family must give the pudding a stir and make a secret wish.

A coin was traditionally added to the ingredients and cooked in the pudding. It was supposed to bring wealth to whoever found it on their plate on Christmas Day.

Mincemeat, cherries, rum - Ally put it all in and it certainly smelled wonderful as it was being steamed for eight hours.

She also decided to follow the old custom of putting some coins into the mix.

But not being a great lover of the dentist, I think my enjoyment of the pudding will be somewhat tempered as I imitate a soldier probing a minefield for the telltale signs of metal!

Oh, and in case anyone’s wondering, Ally did clean the coins first - by dropping them in a glass of a well-known brand of fizzy cola!

By Sunday it was all systems go on the Chrimbo front with Ally off to a workshop on making wreaths with my sister-in-law. The results now adorn our front door and gatepost.

There was even time on Sunday night to string long lines of fairy lights around our porch, although when we switched them on I did worry the hundreds of winking bulbs might divert some overhead passing jet-liner to try and land in our garden!

And, as you all read this today (Thursday), Ally and I will be braving the Christmas crowds in Scotland’s beautiful capital city, Edinburgh, for some present buying.

Edinburgh, which is just an hour’s drive from where we live in the Borders, is a beautiful city and in winter, with frost coating the tops of the old buildings, spires and the roof of Edinburgh Castle, it is a truly magical place at Christmas time.

And, since this will be the last Due South column before Christmas, myself and the rest of the staff here at The Southern Reporter would like to wish all the staff of The South Reporter and its readers much happiness, joy and peace this Christmas.


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