Christmas Trees, Christmas Markets and day three of the Historical Novel Advent Calendar

christmas-tree-2016-1This month, our village is staging a Christmas Tree exhibition. Local groups and associations were challenged to decorate a tree that reflected their activities. Never one to resist a challenge, the history group set out to create something that would be representative of what we do. We debated using vintage tree decorations, which I have but they are too precious to leave unattended and anyway they would be inhabiting my own tree. In the end, our tree became a real joint effort as two members were charged with sourcing a natural ‘tree’ aka suitably shaped branches and greenery. Another member was to provide sand to secure the ‘tree’ in its pot. We did have difficulties with this as an unseasonable three day freeze meant that the sand pile was impenetrably solid. A gravel substitute was found. My contribution was the decorations. For these, we printed out small portraits of former residents, taken from our photograph collection, within seasonal frames. We abandoned the initial idea of putting the names on the reverse side as we feared that the stability of the tree would not withstand viewers trying to access the names. Instead, we provided a key to the identities of those on our ‘decorations’ to put beside the tree and instead put seasonal images on the reverse of the laminated ‘ornaments’. Glittery ties and ivy in lieu of tinsel finished off our entry. It has already attracted favourable comments and now we await the result of the vote for the ‘best tree’ in the New Year.

Now I must stop writing this and venture out to set up the history group stall at the Christmas Market. Fortunately, I only have to move our historical books to the chapel next door and it will be fun to mingle with my neighbours for the day, looking at the produce on the other craft and food stalls and generally starting to feel Christmassy – a season that I love, even though I am not a fan of the weather that accompanies it. Having said that, I don’t think I could get my head round Christmas in blazing sunshine on the beach along with my down-under friends.

For today’s historical novel advent box I would like to open the novels of Anya Seton. She was the first adult historical novel writer I read, having, at the age of eleven, just watched a television adaptation of her Dragonwyck. During my early teenage years I eagerly worked my way through her whole output. An American author, Seton’s works are nonetheless often set in England and stretch from Roman Britain (Mistletoe and Sword) to the Victorian Era. I still re-read her books, admire her careful research and enjoy the slightly mystical slant that some of the novels have. Green Darkness is one such, time slipping between the sixteenth century and the present. This is one of my favourites and her teenage novel Smouldering Fires adopts a similar approach. Several of her novels are based on real characters; for example The Winthrop Woman tells of early emigrants to America and Devil Water is set at the time of the Jacobite Rebellion. The latter instilled in me a great love of Northumberland decades before I was able to visit that county. Seton may now be considered old fashioned but I can still get lost in her narrative. Who will I draw from the ‘box’ tomorrow?


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