Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock. “Now they are all on their knees,” an elder said as we sat in a flock by the embers in hearth side ease.
That start of the poem The Oxen by Thomas Hardy, summed up the feel of Christmas in the fold-yard for me as we enter the New Year.
All over the festivities, any dereliction of duties in farm and stock care is never even contemplated.
The cattle, lowing away as usual, had to be checked at night before bedtime and the sheep visited several times during the day. Can’t say we sat up with them round a fire though.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen.
Not did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
For us, Christmas was even more significant as last year our third grandchild was born on Christmas Day.
I am not sure whether I noticed the cows were all down on their knees when we did the late night check then on Christmas Eve, but a few are starting to look decidedly more matronly than usual as calving is due from this time onwards.
Which is another reason for delaying bedtime to trudge through the straw of the fold-yard.
So this year Christmas meant a shift in traditions.
Birthday party on Christmas Day complete with singing Eyeore and Tigger (Sophie being very taken with Winnie the Pooh), and the Christmas Day meal on Boxing Day after John’s shoot.
It had been no less busy though with friends calling in at all times. And I mean all times.
“ Can we come over to pick up the goose” came a merry phone call at 6 o’ clock on Christmas Eve.
“We are all up here as Cal ( eighteen month old grandchild) is awake and won’t go back to sleep, and we knew you would be awake.”
As we were acting as ordering centre for my brother-in-law’s geese and turkey franchise, that also entailed me getting him up to bring over the goose.
By seven o clock there were six of us devouring bacon rolls in the kitchen and a Christmas goose to rival the one in a Dickens’ Christmas Carol in the boot of our friends car.
When you factor in exchanging a couple of guinea fowl for a bag of potatoes, sack of apples for a piano lesson, straw for home made wine, rolled barley for a Christmas cake and a guinea pig’s bale of hay for mince pies... our village had Christmas sewn up.
We even saved on postage stamps with John delivering all our cards when taking the dogs for a walk.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come see the oxen kneel
In the lonely Barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping, it might be so.