Author Helen Peters grew up on working farm – something which has greatly inspired her novels, The Farm Beneath Water, The Secret Hen House Theatre and her new book for younger readers, A Piglet Called Truffle. Here she shares her memories of Christmas on the farm…
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Christmas on the Farm
by Helen Peters
When I think about my childhood Christmases on the Sussex farm where I grew up, the first image that comes to mind is the Christmas tree. My parents insisted that the house wasn’t decorated until the twenty-fourth of December, so Christmas Eve was a manic flurry of decorating. And the most exciting part of that was getting the tree. The four of us children would pile into the open back of Dad’s ancient army jeep, two of us perched on the wheel arches and two on the floor. We rattled across the fields up to the wood at the edge of the farm, where there was a small Christmas tree plantation, from which we would choose a tree (the biggest possible, although my mum begged us each year to get a smaller one that wouldn’t scrape the ceiling and take up half the room). Dad heaved the tree into the back of the truck with us, along with branches of holly and ivy that he had cut in the woods, and we bumped home, singing Christmas carols with the tree needles prickling our faces.
And then it was time to hang up the stockings. Not for us the brightly coloured, decorated felt creations seen in shops. Our Christmas stockings were Dad’s actual old socks: grey wool, sprinkled with moth holes and with a piece of string threaded through them to tie around the bedpost. They weren’t the prettiest or the largest stockings, but they did stretch amazingly far, and can anything beat the magic of waking up on Christmas morning and seeing that sock at the end of the bed bulging with presents, with a chocolate Father Christmas poking out of the top?
Whoever woke first – usually about 4am – would tiptoe around the bedrooms and wake the other three, careful not to disturb Mum and Dad, who had probably only just collapsed into bed. Then we would convene in whichever room had the best electric heater (we had no central heating and the bedrooms were freezing) and, crouching around the heater, open our presents in turn. There was always a book (my favourite parcel, of course) and a Christmassy toy or decoration, and then there were useful things like sellotape and blu-tack. Even now, when I buy a roll of sellotape or a box of drawing pins I feel a bit profligate, because such luxuries should really be saved for Christmas.
My other favourite memory is of the extended family gathering on Boxing Day, with all our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. The big Victorian dining table was extended to its limit and eighteen or so people sat down to a candle-lit, fire-lit tea, with cold ham, turkey and tongue, jacket potatoes and salads and quiches, followed by Christmas cake, mince pies, chocolate log, trifle, cakes and biscuits. After tea, the adults would stay around the dining table and have boring conversations, while the children sneaked across the hall into the drawing room, turned off all the lights and played hide and seek in the dark. I vividly remember the thrill of creeping around the room in total darkness, stifling giggles as you brushed against a cousin who had also slithered beneath the sofa or pressed themselves behind the Christmas tree, living in dread of the cold hand of the seeker squeezing your shoulder, and then the excitement as the mantle of seeker was passed to you, without anybody else knowing that you had turned traitor and were now hunting them down. It’s one of my absolute favourite Christmas memories. And I guess that’s what Christmas is all about: weird family traditions that make every family’s Christmas unique!
Jasmine’s dad is a farmer, and her mum is a large-animal vet, so Jasmine spends a lot of time caring for animals and keeping them out of trouble. Unfortunately, this often means she gets into hot water herself…
In the first in the series, A Piglet Called Truffle, Jasmine rescues a tiny little piglet from certain death. But Jasmine’s parents don’t believe in farm animals being pets and insist that Truffle must be sold as soon as she’s big enough.
Jasmine is desperate to give Truffle a home for life. Perhaps a heroic rescue on a freezing, stormy night will show that Truffle is truly part of the family?
A Piglet Called Truffle, published by Nosy Crow, is out now.
You can read my review by clicking on this link HERE