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Unknowingly we’d begun to lay the foundation in April.

Don and I returned from Malaysia on March 21st, just squeaking in before borders closed. By the time we’d done our two-week quarantine it had been eight weeks since we’d seen our friends. Finally it felt safe enough to see them – strictly outdoors of course.

As the weather warmed up we started meeting up more and more. Getting together with Michael and Ricki we went twice to VanDusen Garden for birthday celebrations and flower-worshipping. Several times we met up for ice cream dates. Usually we’d choose a place near a park, but one time the park just seemed too far away and that ice cream, half a pint each, was starting to melt, so we took our picnic chairs from the car and sat down right there on the sidewalk. We know how to have a good time!

Most frequently, with Linda joining us, after shopping at the weekend farmers’ market we’d get together for coffee, treats, and a long catch-up, revelling in being able to be outdoors and to be with friends.

Over the months from April to July we only met outdoors, and almost never spent time with anyone outside our group. There were various outings including a day at Reifel Bird Sanctuary. Then in August we took it to a whole new level and spent four days in Whistler staying together in a tiny apartment. Also somewhere in there was a dinner at a restaurant, and another picnic, this time in Queen Elizabeth park,

and, by now feeling much braver, dinner indoors at Michael and Ricki’s place, followed by Thanksgiving dinner at ours. This was followed soon after by dinner at Linda’s, and then dinner again at our place. By this time the five of us had become a firmly established #covidbubble, all of us taking all the precautions needed to stay safe.

So of course we decided to spend Christmas together. Because of the restrictions of the pandemic none of us could be with family, but together we had become family. One of the unexpected blessings of this strange and challenging time has been the deepening of our friendship even after having already known each other for more than twenty years.

I’d offered to cook the Thanksgiving turkey, which of course meant dinner would have to be at our place. Everyone seemed pleased that I offered to do the same again for Christmas. But decorating. That was another matter. I had no energy for stringing lights. And what about a tree? It’s Christmas! We had to have a tree! I hate those fake trees that try so hard to look like the real thing and never do. I toyed around with the idea of creating my own after having seen this fabulous and unique creation from our friend Don,

Photo by Don Louv

and the tree my sister and her daughter made with painted lengths of wood.

Also we were restricted by space. We have no room for a full size tree. I started looking at various moss and lichen covered branches on my daily forest walks thinking I could somehow make some kind of construction with them. Then Linda mentioned that a local store was selling potted trees. That was the solution! I stored my sewing machine and replaced it with the potted tree. Now I needed decorations so I went to my favourite thrift store. And went a little nuts.

I bought balls for the tree

Photo by Don Read

and a table cloth, and Christmas-themed placemats, and napkins, and dishes, and more shiny balls. Now I had energy to decorate! Now I knew what I wanted to do. I remembered a thing one of my sisters did a few years back – she hung Christmas balls above the table. Such a cool idea!

I was so excited. Like a child. This was fun!

I made turkey stuffing with onion, fake bacon, pine nuts, and cranberries, and then, oh stuff it! I stuffed that bird and stitched it up,

Photo by Don Read

put it in the oven, and got myself all dressed up in my best red and green to welcome our friends. I’ve never before been quite so Christmassy. But there you go. A pandemic can sure make you do strange things.

We put all the gifts under the tree,

got ourselves organised, and then it was appy time, along with cheers, love, Prosecco, and a toast to friendship

Photo by Linda

followed by the great gift-giving – one at a time so everyone could see and appreciate what was given and received. Michael was very happy with his Scotch,

and Don seemed equally happy with his book of beauty queens rofl.

Bit by bit dinner came together. The turkey came out of the oven and the dishes the others had brought went in. Peas were cooked. Gravy was made. Shenanigans happened – who cares if there’s no mistletoe, there’s shiny balls and that’s just as good.

Finally, after a prayer of gratitude – for friendship, home, abundance, warmth, and good food – we sat down to eat our feast. I always forget to take photos of meals. For all that I’ve said in the past that I’m not a foodie, eating always seems more important than taking photos. So here’s one part way through:

Turkey, stuffing, gravy, Linda’s homemade cranberry sauce, roast potatoes, peas, beets, tzimmes (sweet potatoes, carrots, dried plums, orange juice, honey, yum).

Who needs a tripod when you can build a tower!

I was determined to get one photo with all of us together – wearing our silly cracker hats and full of good food and good feelings.

There came a time to just sit.

Photo by Linda

Michael started to teach Don how to play Bridge,

and Ricki, Linda and I drew Soul Cards. My focus was on travel in 2021 which seems pretty much out of the question at this point, and definitely out of the question before vaccination, so I was totally thrilled with the card I drew.

Photo by Don Read

It looks hopeful to me – I’m leaning forward into it, being very serious about it, but at the same time carrying on my shoulder something that looks like a luminous flower radiating out to infinity and giving me energy, strength, and encouragement. There’s a confidence and a sense of rightness about it. But we’ll see. It all feels like a bit of a fantasy at the moment.

At last it was time for dessert. I’d offered to provide dessert because I really wanted a traditional, as in British traditional, Christmas pudding with all the trimmings.

Being raised in a family of British heritage in Australia it’s what we always had at Christmas, and Don, being born and raised in England had the same thing. When we were children Christmas pudding had threepences and sixpences cooked into it. For you North Americans a threepence is about the size of a dime and worth about two cents. A sixpence is about the size of a nickel and worth about the same. Eating dessert was not only about the pudding, it was also about how much money you scored!

My dad did this every year without fail for as long as we were young enough to fall for it: as we were sitting around the table eating Christmas pudding and shouting I got sixpence! I got threepence! I got another threepence! I got two sixpences! My dad would start making mumbling noises, but loud enough to get our attention. Then we’d see him reach into his mouth just a tiny bit and grab hold of something. Then slowly, so slowly, he’d pull a five pound note out of his mouth! We’d be so pissed off! How come he always got the big money and we never did?

Christmas pudding comes with: brandy butter (a hard sauce that’s whipped up butter, confectioners sugar, and brandy), rum custard (egg custard with rum added), whipped cream, and ice cream. But first you have to turn out all the lights, pour brandy all over the pudding and set fire to it.

This was a new experience for the other three. When it had finally stopped flaming Ricki said Do it again! So I poured more brandy over it and set fire to it again. Fun! Then we piled on the sauces and cream and ice cream and dived in. It was so good. I can’t remember when I last had a proper Christmas pudding dessert. Probably not since I was last in Australia about four years ago. I was in heaven.

It was one of the best Christmases ever even though we all missed family. We had each other, and deep gratitude that we could even have a Christmas when so many are hurting so badly. We know how are lucky we are.

So 2020 has finally come to an end. A huge thank you to all of you who follow the blog, and like posts, and comment. The blog is alive because of you – every one of you. I’m so grateful.

Merry Happy Everything everyone! Wishing all of you all good things for 2021. May 2021 be better!

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2020.