As of this moment, there are six sleeps to go. That is, until Hogswatch is upon us. Stockings full of little gifts. No lumps of coal this year. Hogswatch pyjamas and Hogfather hats. Desperation to keep stress under control.
The dried orange slices and cinnamon adorn the tree, tinsel wreaths are everywhere, Hogswatch cards hang on the snowman bunting. It isn’t false, this festive cheer. The desire to decorate our home, to bring a little more loveliness into our sanctuary is done happily. For the most part. It is also a way to try and defuse the stress. Not to mask. Not to avoid. But to try and bring about some kind of balance.
I can’t make the stresses go away, but I can make our surroundings merrier. I won’t go into what the latest stresses are, suffice to say there have been plenty, from the relatively mundane to the utterly devestating. From acute to chronic. From small to all encompassing.
It is much maligned by some, but Love Actually kept finding its way into my thoughts and so I slung on the DVD a couple of nights ago. There are a few scenes that get to me (cookies for whoever guesses which the other ones are), one in particular is when Emma Thompson’s character takes herself away to the bedroom. Things crash down around her, she takes a deep breath, composes herself, leaves the room and carries on. With different stresses, I found myself doing the same. Mr. Juniper knows, and he knows that the deep breaths usually work for me. But lately I’ve needed more hugs. So has he. Lately the gravity of the stress has taken me by surprise a couple of times. I close my eyes and feel the swell of the deep breath. I will the force of it to ease and the floodgates not to break. I know that if Mr. Juniper were to hug me in that moment, I wouldn’t be able to hold back. The private moment works. The crushing force of the stress eases back like the receding tide. Eyes open. Hands sweeping across my face, pushing stray hairs back. Another deep breath. And simply carrying on.
Most days, Little Juniper will be carried on my back for a nap. It’s a piece of time I use to try and keep myself grounded. Whilst he nestles in against me, I pace gently around the house. It is simply time to think. Time to breathe. Time to relax. The gentle rise and fall of his chest against my back is one of the most beautiful sensations. His feet rest against my hips. His head tucked in, tufts of sandy hair peek over my shoulders. Sometimes his fingers softly grasp my top whilst he dreams. Sometimes it still isn’t enough. Little Juniper wakes, I take him off my back and am greeted by a beautiful smile that is still more asleep than awake.
It is when that smile isn’t enough that I know my stress has begun to breach the usual defences. Some of the rises in stress are entirely to do with the winter months and what they hold for Mr. Juniper and I. They come every year, and this year, with their own particular force. Harking back to the ancient need for winter celebrations, I’ve filled our home with loveliness. We can defeat some of the dark with tinsel. We really can. A little more warmth. A little more light. Hogswatch decorations aren’t going to win the war but they can help win the battle.
There’s an angel sitting on top of our tree. Every year I try and persuade Juniper Junior to put something different up there. Something marginally less… angelic. Every year he wins. The angel sits there in its paper plate glory and it brings about a smile. Juniper Junior could beat the biggest of monsters with his seasonal excitement. When he saw the massive Hogswatch tree looming over the high street, he started skipping and singing, “It’s Hogswatch Eve! It’s Hogswatch Eve!” I want to banish this stress, to the extent I have been found dancing round the house to Hogswatch music while wearing a Hogswatch hat. An upcycled pink one, no less.
This seems like an appropriate time for a short story. We were at one of many GP appointments, Little Juniper and I. In the waiting area, and eventually finding ourselves pacing around more of the building. Little Juniper was calm in the wrap when an old man walked past, he looked at Little Juniper, nodded and said, simply, “Peaceful.” Not cosy, cute, quiet. Peaceful. There was part of me that wanted to cry right then. I think it was seeing someone recognise where we were. What I had managed to grasp hold of for a few minutes: peace.
Ultimately, our shameless embracing of Hogswatchtime is a desire to see not a ball of flaming gas break over the horizon on the 25th, but to see the sun rise. The difference to us is astronomical.
WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HADN’T SAVED HIM?
“Yes! The sun would have risen just the same, yes?”
“Oh, come on. You can’t expect me to believe that. It’s an astronomical fact.”
THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.
“Really? Then what would have happened, pray?”
A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.
– Terry Pratchett, Hogfather
HO. HO. HO.