måndag 22 december 2008

Lucka 22

What is the most precious, the most exciting
smell awaiting you in the house when you return
to it after a dozen years or so? The smell of roses,
you think? No, moldering books.
0000000000000000000 Andre Sinyavsky
Karin läser (Karin reads) by Carl Larsson
Christmas in Bullerby

I don't know when Christmas starts in other places, but in Bullerby it starts the day we bake ginger snaps. We have almost as much fun that day as on Christmas Eve. Lars and Pip and I each get a big chunk of ginger-snap dough, and we can bake it in the shape of anything we want. The last time we were to bake ginger snaps, Lars forgot all about it and went to the forest with Father to get wood. Right in the middle of the forest he remembered what day it was and rushed home so fast that the snow whirled round him, Father said.
Pip and I had already started to bake. It was just as well that Lars came a little late because the best ginger-snap mould we have is a pig, and when Lars is there it's almost impossible for Pip and me to get it. But this time we had baked ten pigs each before Lars came puffing home from the forest. How he hurried to catch up with us!
When we had almost finished baking we put all our last little pieces of dough together and made a big prize biscuit. We always do this. Then in the afternoon, when all the ginger snaps had come out of the oven, we put 332 dried peas in a bottle and went all round Bullerby to let everyone guess how many peas there were. The one who made the closest guess would get the big biscuit for a prize.
Lars carried the bottle, Pip carried the prize biscuit, and I carried a notebook where I wrote down everyone's guess. Grandpa was the one who won the prize, and I was so glad. He guessed that there were 320 peas in the bottle, which was very close. Anna guessed that there were three thousand peas. Wasn't that crazy?
The day after we baked the ginger snaps was fun too, for then we went to the forest to cut the Christmas trees. All the fathers go along when we cut the Christmas trees - and all the children too, of course. The mothers have to stay at home and cook, poor things! We took our big sleigh, which we use for carrying the milk from Bullerby to the dairy in the big village. Lars and Pip and I and Britta and Anna and Olaf rode in the sleigh. My daddy walked beside it and drove the horse. Olaf's and Britta's and Anna's daddies walked behind it and laughed and talked. All of us in the sleigh laughed and talked too.
There was so much snow in the forest that we had to shake it out of the fir trees to see if they were pretty or not. We cut three big fir trees, one for each farm. And then we cut a tiny little tree for Grandpa to have in his room, and another little one to give to Kristina, because she is an old woman who lives all alone in her red cottage in the woods.
The night before Christmas Eve I felt sad because I didn't think Mother and Agda could ever get everything ready for Christmas. It looked so untidy all over the house, and especially in the kitchen. I cried a little after I had gone to bed.
On Christmas Eve morning I woke up early and ran down to the kitchen in my nightie to see if it was still untidy. But instead it was beautiful! There were new rag carpets on the floor; there was red and green and white curled tissue paper round the iron pole by the stove; there was a Christmas cloth on the big folding table; and all the copper kettles were polished. I was so happy that I gave Mother a big hug. Lars and Pip came rushing in right after me, and Lars said that even his stomach felt Christmassy when he saw the rag carpets.
On Christmas Eve morning all of us Bullerby children always go over to Kristina's with a basket full of goodies from our mothers. But first we go to Grandpa to wish him a Merry Christmas and watch Britta and Anna decorate his little tree. We help a little too, although Britta and Anna prefer to do it by themselves. Of course Grandpa can't see what we hang on the tree, because he is nearly blind, but when we tell him about it he says that he can see it inside his head.
When we walked over to Kristina's cottage the weather was very beautiful, just as it should be on Christmas Eve. The road that goes to Kristina's cottage is so narrow that we could hardly see it under all the snow. Lars carried the basket, and Pip and Olaf the little fir tree. The boys wouldn't let Britta and Anna and me carry anything. How surprised Kristina was when we came! WeIl, she probably was just pretending to be surprised, because she knows that we come every year. Lars unpacked everything in the basket and put it on the table, and Kristina just shook her head and said,
"My, my, it's too much, it's much too much!"
I didn't think that it was too much, but it was a lot: a large piece of ham, a sausage, a round cheese, coffee, ginger snaps, candIes, sweets, and I don't rememiber what else. We put the candIes on Kristina's tree and danced round it a little while to practise for later on that night. Kristina was very happy, and she stood in the doorway and waved to us as we left.
When we got home Lars and Pip and I decorated our tree. Father helped us. We got the red apples that we were going to use on the tree out of the attic, and then we hung some of our ginger snaps on it. We put raisins and nuts in the Christmas baskets we had made of coloured paper. We also hung up the cotton angels that Mother had used on her tree when she was little - and then, of course, a lot of flags and candIes and sweets. The tree looked very pretty when it was finished!
Then it was time to "dip in the pot". Mother gave us large slices of rye bread that Agda had baked, and we dipped them in the broth that the ham had cooked in. It was very good. Then there was nothing to do but W AlT. Lars said that times like those hours in the afternoon of Christmas Eve, when you don't do anything but wait and wait, are the kind of things people get grey hairs from. We waited and waited and waited, and from time to time I went to the mirror to see if I had any grey hairs yet. But strangely enough, my hair was just as yellow as ever. Pip hit the clock now and then, because he thought that it had stopped.
When it got dark, it was time at last to take our presents over to North Farm and South Farm. You can't do that when it's light because it wouldn't be exciting at all. Lars and Pip and I put on our red Santa Claus caps and Lars took the Santa Claus mask that he was going to wear later in the evening. (It's Lars who is Santa Claus at our house nowadays. When I was little I thought that there was a real Santa Claus, but I don't think so any more.) Then we took our packages and slipped out into the dark. The sky was full of stars. I looked towards the forest, standing so dark and still, and imagined that perhaps there was a real Santa Claus living there who soon would come, pulling a sled loaded with Christmas presents. I almost wished that it were true.
There was no light in the kitchen at North Farm. We pounded on the back door, and then we opened it and threw our Christmas packages inside. Britta and Anna came rushing out and said that we had to come in and taste their Christmas cakes and sweets. So we did, and they gave us Christmas packages too. Britta and Anna put on their Santa Claus masks, and we all went over to South Farm to see Olaf. He was sitting in their kitchen, and he was just waiting too. Svipp, his dog, barked like everything when he saw five Santa Clauses coming. Then Olaf put on a mask too, and we all ran out and played Santa Claus in the dark.
At last it was really Christmas Eve, and we ate supper at the folding table in the kitchen. There were candIes on the table and an awful lot of food, but I didn't eat much except ham. I did eat porridge, of course, in case I should get the almond. The one who gets the almond in the porridge is sure to get married during the coming year. But I didn't get it. It had broken in two, and Oscar the hired man and Agda each got a piece. How Lars and Pip and I laughed. Agda got cross and said the whole thing was probably one of our tricks. But how could we help it that the almond had broken in two ?
We made up rhymes to the porridge too. Lars made up this one:
You saw the almond break in two,
So Oscar is certain to marry you.
We thought that was pretty good, but Agda didn't think so. She got a little more cheerful afterwards, when we all helped her to dry the dishes. We did that so that we could get ready sooner and start giving out the presents.
When we finished we went into the dining room. The tree was lighted and so were the candIes on the table. I got goose flesh the way I always do when anything's very beautiful and exciting. Father read to us from the Bible about the Christ Child. I read some terribly pretty verses that start this way: "Oh, little Lord Jesus, asleep in the hay." It goes on to say in those verses that the Christ Child should really have a whole lot of Christmas presents and a cake. That's what I think too. But instead we're the ones who get all the presents.
While the rest of us sang "Silent Night", Lars slipped out and in a little while he came back, dressed as Santa Claus, with a big sack on his back. "Are there any good children here?" he asked. "Yes, there are good children here," said Pip. "But we have a real naughty boy too, whose name is Lars. He seems to be out at the moment, thank goodness."
"I've heard about him," said Santa Claus. "He's the nicest boy in this country . He should have more presents than anyone else."
But he didn't get any more than anyone else. We all got the same number of presents. I got a new doll, and three books, a game, a piece of cloth for a dress, mittens, and all kinds of other things. I got fifteen presents altogether.
I had made a tea cloth with cross stitch for Mother. She was very happy when she got it. I had bought a calendar for Father. He was happy too. I like it when people are happy about the Christmas presents I give them. It's as much fun as getting presents yoursef. I gave tin soldiers to Lars and Pip.
Afterwards we danced round the tree, and everyone from North Farm and South Farm came and helped us. Grandpa came too, although he couldn't dance. I think we danced the polka and the barn dance at least twenty times.
That night I put all my Christmas presents on the table by my bed, so that I'd be able to see them first thing when I woke up in the morning.
Christmas is wonderful! It's a great pity that it isn't Christmas a little more often.
"The Children of Noisy Village" by Astrid Lindgren, 1907–2002

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