Lapland. Chapter 4 Book of holidays

So while we were completely overjoyed at the early and safe arrival of our new grandson we were about to top this with the trip of a lifetime (for me at least) and taking the mermaid with us. I’m not sure whether this one was more for me than her but it was an incredible deal so I booked a trip to Lapland. I do love Christmas and have never lost the magic of the season, even into adulthood Christmas remains such a special time, evoking memories of long ago. I don’t often broadcast it but I am still a believer, ignoring the inevitability of reality, and clinging onto my desire for magic for as long as possible.

It was only a day trip so we had an early start, therefore the mermaid spent the night with us. This was not the best idea as I tend not to sleep when she’s here just because of the overwhelming responsibility that comes with keeping someone else’s child overnight. We had read that we needed to have plenty lairs on so we had prepared double of everything to pull on once we were up. I was wide awake with excitement at 4 am, then woke up the mermaid at 5, who was distinctly unfazed, to get dressed then head to the airport.

There was a jingling, jangling atmosphere in the airport where several day trips to Lapland were scheduled and little children, dragging their reluctant parents behind them, amassed in unprecedented numbers in the departure lounge. Gabbling with excitement, gleeful in anticipation their cheer was infectious. They raised the roof in the security hall with their chatter and staff had to work hard to focus on the more important task of making them all safe. Staff too had joined in the festive frolics, adorned in festive garb, tinsel tied in their hair and baubles replacing their earrings.

Before long we were all aboard and ready for take off. Flight attendants wearing elfin chic served mulled wine and mince pies, but the mermaid was busy colouring in, now feeling the early rise, she was looking for a more substantial breakfast. Santa (posing as the captain) was flying the plane, without Rudolph! But fear not for he was still there, colourfully shining brightly on the overhead lockers with each of his fellow reindeers painted along side him. Bells jingled, children were laughing, adults were singing and suddenly (but really after about 3 hours) we landed in Lapland.

It was 1pm and we had only 1 hour of daylight left. There was a lot of snow at the airport and it was hard to distinguish the roads from the pavements, shiny, slidey snow that was hard to walk on or find well trodden pathways. Once we had disembarked we had to locate our bus to transport us to be fitted for the required Lapland attire. It was -28 degrees and even double lairs weren’t enough to cope with this cold. After a few seconds outside, taking in the wonderful sights, it was onto the bus desperate for the heating. But you could not fail to feel Christmas had arrived.

At the changing station we were provided with onesies, in navy or red, hats, snow boots and gloves, especially essential as fingers and toes felt the bitter cold first. Once suitably kitted out the mermaid wanted to make snow angels so we ventured outside hoping our new winter attire would keep us cosy. She had the gloves off instantly making snowballs, falling down and loving it all laughing. At one point papa fell into the snow completely disappearing engulfed by a 10 foot drift. We pulled him to safety, covered in snow just in time to get back on the bus to head to Santa’s pad.

It was now about 3 pm and pitch black, our little village lay in a valley and was flickering with fairy lights welcoming our coach, it was so magical just as you would imagine. A white reindeer with bells along the red straps that attached him to a sleigh where animal furs were piled on for warmth, pulled us around the village, the wind factor reducing the cold to -36 below. After this we found the kitchen and had a warm meal served by elves; traditional in its offering, just what the people of Lapland would live on, chips with meatballs and spaghetti. Back outside, once we had managed to climb back into the onesies we took a husky ride. Our snot forming frozen laces stretched across our cheeks. The mermaid stood watching the dogs and was mesmerised, worrying where they might be sleeping tonight and how they were going to get warm.

Finally after several sleigh rides, snowman building, tobogganing and sleds we joined the queue to be transported to see Santa. In no time our sled loaded with blankets and fur skins arrived. Jingling with excitement as we climbed in and our safety helmets suitably secured against the elements. The snow was thick, laden on the fir trees feathery branches and frozen solid, the additional weight pulling them to the ground. The full moon shone creating an eerie runway amid the trees and as the huskies dragged us closer to Santa’s house there was an ethereal glow and calmness provided by nature in all its glory in this winter wonderland.

The sled flew along the hard packed snow and we could see smoke, still and steady, in the distance. An elf, scantly clad for this weather, waited excitedly while we climbed out, our faces red raw, our fingers and toes toastie from the extra clothing and the blankets. The gingerbread house door opened into a sea of warm, red felt and velvet curtains, a little log burner glowing in the corner gave warmth to the room and illuminated a massive gold throne. As we ventured inside following the scantly clad elf, the mermaid hesitated a little; fear rather than fascination the feelings at that time. Then I caught my breath, my stomach flipped and there was Santa, he emerged cloaked in glorious deep red velvet, lined with ermine and the white flowing, curly beard. Be still my beating heart….

Rehearsals for Christmas have been curtailed. Chapter 2 Christmas

It has always been my favourite time of year, from a very young age I was mesmerised by Christmas magic and it’s never left me. My earliest memories of Christmas were full of joy and excitement reinforced by the happy times when we lived with my Grandad, my parents and two younger sisters in Shotts.

The Christmas season kicked off when we began preparations for the end of term school party. From the end of November we learned Scottish country dancing and were introduced to the delights of the Gay Gordon’s, Strip the Willow and the Military Two Step. If you were lucky (and your parents could afford it) you got a new outfit for what felt like a never-ending run of Christmas parties. It was such a busy time for budding socialites like me. Largely dependent on the social standing of the organisations that you attended and their predisposition for throwing parties, like the Salvation Army, the Sunday school or the Brownies.

As is true with every fanatic there are bizarre unexplainable behaviours associated with your obsession. For me these centred on precision planning for the Christmas discovery that Santa had been. In my opinion this required a finely tuned and masterfully orchestrated plan to reduce all possible margins for error for such an important occasion. To suppress any anxiety I had that I might miss Christmas Day (hardly likely) I organised weekly rehearsals. These were much to my sister’s consternation, as the rehearsals ran for four weeks up to Christmas Eve and were always in the middle of the night. As an adult you could never understand nor appreciate the necessity for such a rehearsal. However for a childhood fanatic like me it was essential; the order in which we awakened and the precision timing associated with the start of the big day was a matter of significant importance.

This was one operation which in my view could never be left to chance, nor could I ever envisage the circumstances that would mean I was not the person to announce that Santa had been. So in addition to making sure we were up, my priority was all about being the person who made the Christmas discovery. Such was my obsession I was unable to contemplate the scenario that my younger sisters would be the first to the scene. So the rehearsal was designed to reinforce the prevailing status and order among my siblings and that it was absolutely my responsibility to make sure this happened.

After all Christmas was such a rare but exquisite event when you were wee that you couldn’t afford to miss a thing or sleep in. Getting my sisters (who were not yet at school) out of bed in the middle of the night proved to be a very difficult task, they’d rather be sleeping than creeping along the corridor in the freezing cold. Because we shared a room they had no way to escape this drill, but at least this ensured that no-one else was disturbed. However they were sleeping so soundly (and one was in a cot), that it was almost inevitable there was a bit of a racket when I was getting them up. So much so Dad heard us one night and, although we did our best to blend into the wallpaper in the hall ( just as we had been practising), his late night discovery curbed the remaining schedule of rehearsals I had planned.

Therefore I had to find other ways to satisfy my longing for all things Christmas until one year the ultimate happened- I was awake when Santa called. It was Christmas Eve, outside the heavy snow had become hard packed under foot and was glistening like diamonds in the moonlight. I’d been up at the window on numerous occasions that night hoping to catch a glimpse of the man himself. Our fire was smouldering in the room creating a fiery glow at floor level. The windows were frozen on the inside, but the laughter of our neighbours making their way home from the pub caused me to scrape a small viewing pane. They were sliding, throwing snowballs and partaking in other festive foreplay on their way home. This upset me greatly as it was highly unlikely Santa would appear while they were still up. I climbed back into bed unable to sleep, crippled with excitement.

Back in my bed, I’m sure I heard bells ringing. Now I am not 100% sure of this, but something stirred outside making me hold my breath to aid my hearing. There was a rustle of papers and stamping of feet and I heard my Grandad, who was babysitting, say in quite a clear and unaffected way, “Oh it’s you Santa, come in!” Without response I heard his heavy feet stamp on the doormat, I imagined him clearing off the snow from his boots before he entered the hall. I felt the air in the bedroom chill as the door continued to be held open for what seemed an age, and finally I let my breath fly out of my nostrils into a frosty cloud when I was sure he had entered the lounge.

I was terrified and excited all at the same time but I noticed I was frozen to my bed. I was quietly frustrated at my Dad for curbing the essential drills that would have enabled me to sneak out of the bedroom and into the living room where Santa was being entertained by my Grandad. But I was also grateful because I’m not sure how I would have responded coming face to face finally with the great man that Christmas Eve.

Transfixed, I lay there wide awake, breathing deeply, wishing and wondering about the delights awaiting me the following morning when I got up. If I didn’t sleep in I’m pretty sure I would find out…………………..