"Goodness me," I thought, turning the radio up so I could hear when the bells of Cologne cathedral were cast, "I'm listening to a programme about bells! I'm really getting old!"
I looked down at my hands, peeling the turnips, amidst the potato peelings and the discarded leaves of the Brussels sprouts and I suddenly saw my mother's hands. I realised that I was doing what I'd seen her do on Christmas Eve for nearly forty years, and my husband, pottering around the kitchen, not finding kitchenware that has been in the same cupboard it's always been, was just what my father always did - albeit, my father was usually attempting his one and only culinary foray of the year, his perfectly engineered sherry trifle, whereas my husband was just trying to find the teapot. Oh, and with a noisy child clambering between us.
And I started to cry, which is not a good idea with a sharp knife in your hand.
"Are you okay?" my husband, said startled. "What happened?"
"Nothing happened," I said.
"Are you sad?"
Incredulous: "Are you crying because you're happy?"
How do I explain it?
"I'm crying because we're all safe and well and content and at home. And I'm crying because I'm doing the same thing my mother did on Christmas Eve, peeling the turnips."
I blew my nose into a wad of kitchen roll and he patted me sympathetically. More like a you're-a-weirdo-but-I-love-you-anyway kind of pat.
"I'm really sorry," he said, "but I can't get emotional about vegetables."
See, Christmas isn't really about the toys and the glitz and the food and the Important Traditions we think we have to uphold, like family photos and turkey dinners and filled stockings on the mantelpiece. Christmas is about the turnips. Christmas is about finding yourself unthinkingly doing the thousand tiny things your mother did and your father did: leading a one-year-old to a little pile of toys and saying "Look what Santa brought you!", even though you know that child has no clue who Santa is. It's about wiping down sinks and countertops to wake up to a kitchen that will be clean for about ten minutes on Christmas Day. It's about lighting a candle in your window on Christmas Eve or lining up the Christmas cards just so. It's about being part of a bigger cycle, a small cog in a clockwork of Christmasses that stretch over decades. It's about the turnips.
And in that sense, I hope you and yours spent a peaceful day today, doing whatever it is that you always do to keep you safe and well, and make you content.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -P.S.: This morning I opened my Christmas present from my husband, a pretty silver ring with little diamonds. I spontaneously clapped my hand to my chest and drew an intake of breath.
"Oh God," he said, alarmed, "We're not going to have a repeat of The Turnip Incident, are we?"
Dear me. I have a feeling it has already become part of family legend.