Counting down the painfully long, dark and gloomy days of November had become a childhood obsession. Enduring the bone chilling damp and drizzle, common in the North of England at this time of year, was a daily challenge. A challenge, which I believe, I survived solely with one thought in mind; with the end of November came December and with December came Christmas. I was ten years old and I loved Christmas!
Christmas, a transformational, magical time of the year, when even a world covered in frozen fog glowed with the warmth of twinkling fairy lights. A time of fleeting relief from the daily drudge, when my parents’ tired faces, usually permanently etched with worried frowns, gave way to winks and smiles and the whispering of shared secrets. With each passing day in December the excitement in the air grew and everyone seemed so hopeful. I loved everything about Christmas. This Christmas would be one to remember!
One of my favourite events of the season was attending the Annual Christmas church bazaar with my Mum. The church bazaar was an outing that I looked forward to every year but this year was really special because I had a secret! I planned to buy Christmas presents for my family. I had managed to save two shillings; money I had earned by running errands for an elderly neighbour.
The bazaar was a virtual treasure trove for gifts; overflowing with bargains donated by wealthy parishioners. Gift baskets filled with an assortment of Christmas treats; boxes of chocolates, bottles of sherry and whisky, hand-made goods for the penny sale, plus cakes and goodies for the bake table. I was sure to find something perfect!
The day before the bazaar, when I arrived home from school, I was totally shocked to find that my mum was in bed. It was unheard of for my mother to take to her bed. Mum was the one who looked after everyone. She never had time to be sick. Dad assured me it was nothing serious and he promised mum would be fine; she just needed a few days to rest. This made me feel a little better but then reality hit - now we couldn’t go to the Christmas bazaar.
But I had to go…..I was devastated! I just had to convince my father that this was a matter of life and death. I was more determined than ever to buy a gift for my mum. After much pleading and begging and a few tears, my dad agreed that I could go alone. I was ecstatic!
I awoke early in the morning and didn’t even take the time to eat breakfast. I was one of the first to arrive at the church hall. Eager to have my pick of the treasures, I timidly made my entrance, my hand clutching the 2 shillings in my coat pocket. Stepping through those doors was like entering wonderland. I was immediately absorbed in the warmth and glow of festive decorations, the decadent display of seasonal goodies and the delicious aromas that filled the hall and brought attention to my growling stomach.
My eyes quickly scanned the room as I surveyed the bountiful displays. I noticed a small crowd was gathering at the end of the hall. I walked briskly in their direction, my pace slowing as I approached. I almost turned away as I thought “nothing special here…just cakes”. But then I spied it….. in all its glory!
In the centre of the largest table sat the biggest and most beautiful Christmas cake I had ever seen. It was magnificent! Covered in royal icing and decorated with red and green glazed cherries. In one corner, a little robin perched on a perfect chocolate log, sprinkled with icing sugar for snow and little sprigs of holly. In the opposite corner, a clump of marzipan Christmas trees, sparkled with shiny green bows and red striped candy canes. In the centre of the cake sat a miniature Santa in his red liquorice sleigh with eight chocolate reindeer, awaiting his command. Perfectly formed letters of silver and gold candy sprinkles completed the masterpiece with their greeting of “HAPPY CHRISTMAS” and the perfect finishing touch a red satin ribbon wrapped around the cake and tied in a beautiful bow! It was without a doubt the most perfect Christmas cake ever! I stared with wide eyed wonder as choirs of angels sang in my ears. My mum would love this cake. This would be the perfect Christmas gift for my whole family!
My heart sank; as I realized that this magnificent cake was sure to cost much more than 2 shillings. Then I saw the sign. “Raffle tickets 6 pence each - 3 for 1 shilling”. I felt for the 2 shillings in my pocket. I just had to have this cake. I could buy six tickets.
Six tickets for 2 shillings - surely I would win with six tickets! But what if I didn’t win? I would go home with nothing! No cake. No Christmas presents for my family. And no more 2 shillings!
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and made a wish. I heard myself saying, “Could I have 6 raffle tickets please? The transaction took place so quickly. Before I knew it I was clutching six bright red raffle tickets in one hand and my other hand was thrust in my now empty pocket. What had I done? I had saved my money for weeks and I had just handed it over in exchange for six red paper stubs! The draw would not be held until the close of the fair.
I walked around clutching my tickets with a knot in my stomach looking at all the presents I could have bought….but none as wonderful as the magnificent cake! It was finally time for the draw, I could hardly breathe. My heart was beating so loudly I was sure everyone in the hall could hear it, I closed my eyes and repeated; please god, please god…..please…!
Then I heard the announcement; “number 95! The winning ticket is 95” that was my number, they called my number, wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles thank you Lord! I thought my heart would explode as my chorus of angels performed an encore. I had won!
I couldn’t wait to get home to surprise my family. The cake was in a large uncovered box. It was big enough that I needed both hands to carry it. When I got to the door of the Church Hall, I discovered, to my horror, it was pouring with rain. Oh no! With a 2-mile walk down the Moor to get home; my beautiful cake would be ruined.
Taking off my rain coat, I draped it over the box to cover the cake. With my head down I stepped out into the freezing rain, determined to make it home with my coveted prize.
Picking my way cautiously through the mud and puddles, my feet numb inside my worn wellies. I hung on to my cake with my frozen fingers. Silently praying as I inched my way slipping and sliding - (Oh please God don’t let me fall). After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it to my street. It was almost dark. When I turned up the path toward our house I could see the orange glow of the hall light and the shadow of my mother waiting at the front door, anxiously looking out for me. She was horrified to see me walking in the rain without a coat. When I arrived at the door I was shivering and absolutely soaked to the skin.
My mother stared in disbelief as she pulled me into her arms, “Thank the Lord! I was so worried, what happened? Why aren’t you wearing your coat?”
With water dripping down my face, I looked up at my Mum. My drenched raincoat slid off the box, revealing my coveted prize. “Look mum, this for you. Isn’t it beautiful?” My mother’s eyes clouded with tears, as she hugged me tightly, she smiled and said “I thought you were lost, you’re freezing and look like a drowned rat but you and that cake are the most beautiful things I ever did see!” Safely wrapped in the warmth of my mother’s arms, I was so happy, I thought my heart would burst and in that moment I knew why I loved Christmas!