It was, as now I well remember,
The frosty season of December.
The sun was pale and weak throughout the day.
The nights were cold, and it was dark at four,
When working men went home and closed their door
Against the dampness of the night
Which entered in their very bones it seemed.
They called the wind a lazy wind
For it did not trouble
To go around the men
As they went about their fields and barns,
But straight through their coats and flesh and bones it blew,
And left them shivering with the cold.
From field and hedge all green had gone.
The freezing rain and sleet had stripped the trees
Of every leaf from every bough.
The birds sang sadly on the branches bare
Of the oak and ash that grew together there.
Winter did not merit a whole song,
And anyway, they thought much more
Of the happy songs they sang in May.
Then, frozen to their wing tips,
They flew down and, thirsty, hopped about
Looking in trough and stall and yard
For a little water not yet frozen hard.
And the walled garden where they all had danced
In summer on the well mown lawn
Was left to sleep alone on her bare bed
Of cold brown earth hard with the frost.
And in the town the wind blew down the street
As people walked with frozen feet
And stamped them hard upon the stones
To shake off the snow and to feel their toes once more
For the cold had entered in their very bones.
Glad they were to reach their door
And close it on the bitter cold outside.
Then they stayed inside their houses warm
And prepared their Christmas as best they could,
With holly and its berries red that would
Add some bright colour to the cold, grey days.
Light were the windows of the village inn,
A welcome sight to the working men
Who now had left their fields to the cold night
And led their oxen each one to its stall.
Inside the inn the men sat where they could.
In the fireplace was a blazing fire
Where cherry logs were placed across the dogs
And smelled like flowers in bloom.
The fireside settle held the grey-haired men
Who said the winters of their youth
Were colder far than those today,
Though when the young came in from work
With fingers blue and cheeks bright red
They did not yield the seats they had
So close to the red embers of the logs.
They drank in sips the warm mulled wine
And made it last the evening through.
They passed the old brown jug around
As they had done on Christmases before.
The great boar’s head was roasted then.
Apple in mouth, it held the centre of the board,
And Noel sang the merry boys and men.
At home the fires were stoked and logs
Were stacked to dry inside the ingle nook.
Each night the father would take out the holy book
And read the Christmas story once again
To the children gathered round his knee.
Their mother bustled at the stove
And stirred a stew of onions, carrots and of meat
And mixed the fruit into a pudding sweet.
Candles were lit around the room each day.
Fresh rushes were then strewn upon the floor
And the Christmas wreath was hung upon the door.