Christmas at the Farm

Those awkward questions

We get asked a lot of questions, and sometimes the answers don’t come easily. Here are some of my favourites, and some of those that I’m less keen to hear …

Why can’t I see Santa?

This comes up a lot, though it’s usually the elf who is working with Santa who gets asked this, so I’ve only had to deal with disappointed children or parents a handful of times.

The real answer: Your parents didn’t book you a ticket to see Santa, tough luck, kid.

My answer: Oh, I’m afraid Santa is very, very busy today, so much to do this close to Christmas. If you don’t have a golden ticket, you might have to wait to see him on Christmas Eve, because I know he’s coming to your house then, and why don’t you have a little word with Mrs. Claus, she’ll pass on any messages, look, have you seen Mrs. Santa’s house? Isn’t it pretty …

Mrs. Claus’s house. It really is pretty.

Where are the reindeer?

The real answer: We don’t have any. Not any real ones, anyway, but we do have several stuffed reindeer in Santa’s grotto. However I’ve no way of knowing whether they’re going to see Santa or not, so I have to guess …

My answer: They’re getting ready for Christmas Eve, they’re with Santa’s sleigh. Why don’t you take some reindeer food to give them on Christmas Eve … just sprinkle it on your lawn, and you’ll be all ready for when they come!

But I’ve just seen the reindeer, and his sleigh, they’re in the grotto!

Okay, kid, you win this battle of wits.

Santa’s grotto

Do you remember me from last year?

The real answer: No. It was a different actor in this dress last year, so you quite clearly don’t remember me either!

My answer: Of course I do! How are you! How nice of you to come back and see us again.

You don’t look the same as you did in the film. Why not? [Mother Ginger is a character in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – you knew that, didn’t you?]

The real answer: Because I’m not quite as glamorous as Helen Mirren, darling.

My answer: Because I was far too busy making gingerbread to have time to be in the film. They had to ask somebody to pretend to be me. I think she did a pretty good job, don’t you?

Mother Ginger.

Are you a witch?

The real answer: I’m sorry, what? Do I look like a witch?

My answer: I’m not a witch, goodness me, no! I’m Mother Ginger, and this is my gingerbread house … oh, I see! No, that was in Hansel and Gretel; I’m not a witch.

Then why do you have a gingerbread cottage?

The real answer: Stop asking me difficult questions!

My answer: Oh, that was my sister, the bad witch. She had her own gingerbread cottage, this one is mine. I’m a good witch – you know, like in The Wizard of Oz?

Then where is your sister now?

The real answer: Please, please, just stop asking me questions!

My answer: She’s dead. Hansel and Gretel pushed her in the oven and she burnt to death. Macabre? Don’t blame me, it’s in the fairy tale, and you asked!

And finally, one question where I got a very unexpected answer from one young child.

My question: What are you leaving out for Santa to eat on Christmas Eve?

The answer I expected: A mince pie, or possibly cookies and milk.

The answer I got: Shells.

Me: I’m sorry, what did you say? Was that, ‘a mince pie?’

Child: Shells. I’m leaving shells for Santa.

Me: Oh, shells. Of course! How … lovely …

Parent: (patiently) Santa gave him a present with shells in, so he’s giving them back to Santa.

Me: Oh, of course. Shells for Santa. Obviously. Well, perhaps you could leave him a mince pie as well!

Christmas at the Farm

Cats and other creatures

One good thing about spending time at a farm is meeting the animals who inhabit it. My day always starts with a wave and a word for the cows and a quack for the ducks on the pond as I pass them. There are less ordinary animals too; llamas and wallabies occupy two of the fields, and they’re a big hit with the visitors. I’ve made some animal friends too.

In the field opposite my usual station at crossroads between the ‘North Pole’ and Candy Cane Lane are some sheep and goats. They greet me every morning with some hopeful baa-ing, as they expect everyone who walks past their field to feed them. They have a little tube down which you can pour the animal feed, and all day long there is a steady stream of children happy to oblige. It’s hardly surprising that they can be loud if someone forgets to feed them as they walk past! There is inevitably a small pile of dropped animal food outside their field, which brings another visitor, in the form of a little robin who searches around for crumbs. He’s very brave, and I see him most days; often I hear him before I see him, a sharp chirping on the winter air before he bounces along the fence, one eye on the food, the other on me.

Then the robin brings another set of visitors to my North Pole crossroads – the cats. There are several cats who appear now and again, including a very pretty visiting ginger cat, who seemed very happy to see me; I suspect he recognised in me a kindred spirit as Mother Ginger. The farm has two resident cats, one tabby and a grey, Both farm cats are slightly aloof; both happy for a little bit of fuss, but on their own terms, and once they notice that there is no food on offer, they tend to stalk off in search of someone else. The grey cat is a hunter too – whilst talking to some very small children, he upstaged us by scrambling into a tree after some birds who were trying to roost on a high branch. He got quite a long way up before he decided that the birds were beyond him. I hope he doesn’t have his eyes on the little robin …

The horses in the field beside Candy Cane Lane like to interact with their visitors. Sometimes they interact by nipping fingers that are put too close to their mouths, but then visitors shouldn’t be putting their finders close to the horses’ mouths! They’re fond of a rub on the nose, though when one of our elves went to give his nose a rub, it appears that the horse was really VERY pleased to see her …

Then there’s the donkeys. They can make a surprising amount of noise when they want to, and for some reason, they always seem to want to while we’re singing carols. Perhaps they’re joining in? They’re not the only ones who want to add their voices to ours; at the end of the day, the birds begin to gather. A large flock of them, I don’t know what they are, possibly rooks, circle around the trees behind the sheep field. I suspect they have an eye on the spilled sheep food beside the fence, and they’re very noisy. They rise as one, and settle down together, cawing and flapping, they seem to be bickering amongst each other. ‘It’s a bird party!’ declared one of the elves. ‘It’s not a party, it’s only cheese and wine!’ replied another, as the birds watched us. That settles it. Definitely a parliament of rooks!

Christmas at the Farm

Red sky in the morning, Santa’s warning!

My second weekend at the farm dawned with a blazing red sky and frost on the ground. It felt far too early to be awake, as I made a flask of soup and pencilled on my eyebrows. Not at the same time, I should point out, that would be weird, and quite difficult! I’m slightly aware that a red sky is meant to portend bad weather, and I’m not looking forward to experiencing a downpour in Christmas Town, where there aren’t many places to shelter in a huge crinoline skirt … I don’t feel quite so cheery this morning, but I’m determined to make the most of it. Even in the rain, it’ll still be fun, I tell myself.

I get to my post (my post is actually a candy cane outside my gingerbread cottage) just before ten in the morning, and I look around me, breathing a sigh of contentment. Santa is in his grotto, and all is right with the world. The festive music is playing without a hitch, it’s crisp, but not too cold and the first of the children is entering Christmas Town, about to make their way down Candy Cane Lane, and past my base in the North Pole. There’s nothing to be apprehensive about! I wave cheerily to the little one, a big smile on my face.

My post.

The child’s face crumples and they hide behind their father’s legs, and I realise with a sinking feeling that they’re going to cry, aren’t they? This has to be a record. I’ve already caused several children’s bottom lips to quiver – all it takes is talking too loudly, or waving my hands around a bit too vigorously, and we’ve all done it. One of the elves was distraught last week because they popped out from behind a Christmas tree and pulled a face, causing a little girl to dissolve into floods of tears. Since day one I’ve got better at sensing when a breakdown is imminent – you can see the hesitancy before the eyes start to well up. After the first day, I had perfected the technique of backing off, saying ‘I’m going to stay right over here and I promise I won’t come any closer …’ But a simple wave, from half-a-football-field away? Am I doing something wrong?

We’re busy all morning, and the first part of the afternoon, but by about three o’clock, the sky has begun to darken. The promise of the red sunrise began to come true as the first drops of rain began to fall. Mrs. Claus reminded me that my dress doubles in weight if it gets wet, so I look for shelter in the reindeer food store; I decide that I’ll help the visitors with their reindeer food instead of telling them about my gingerbread cottage, but all the visitors, like us, are seeking shelter. No-one comes near the increasingly muddy gingerbread cottage. The elves have disappeared, also keeping dry, no doubt, and Mrs. Claus has gone off to do story time. For the second time today, I feel a little bit disheartened.

It’s getting muddy near the gingerbread house.

But then, in the distance, I see a flash of purple. One of the elves is dancing through the puddles with her umbrella, even though there are no children watching she’s still wrapped up in her character. I find myself grinning, despite the rain and the crying children, there’s still real magic here. And even as I realise it, the rain begins to slow, and then stop as the last few rays of the evening sun shine out from behind a cloud.

Red sky at night, Santa’s delight.

Image from Pixabay, user 8982496

Christmas at the Farm

First morning

I was early, I’m always early for everything, and on arrival at the farm I was too early for the 9.15 meet-up in the car park. I’m a bit nervous as it’s a long time since I’ve done anything quite like this. I had a brief word with some of the cows, who looked at me as if I was mad and I went over to the duck pond, where the ducks were happily splashing about. It was cool, but not too cold, dry, and a watery yellow sun was rising over the duckpond. A perfect day for being on the farm, if not exactly festive.

Image from Pixabay, Pixel2013

In our dressing room, Santa and some of the elves had got there just before me. Our transformation was swift – in minutes we all went from ordinary looking people to magical characters. Each elf has a character of their own: one elf is a tailor, one is in charge of the post room for Santa, one is full of mischief and loves stealing candy canes. The young people who are playing the elves are an absolute delight, and it turns out that it’s a pleasure to work with them all. Within half an hour I’m feeling a lot less nervous! Santa looks enchanting, a traditional old-fashioned Father Christmas in a rich red coat with golden embroidery. His grotto, complete with sleigh, is positively magical. I find myself wishing that I had small children to bring to meet him, and I’m starting to feel a festive tingle in the air.

Image by Victoria Borodinova from Pixabay

I put on my own costume. I have a crinoline skirt and I’m secretly delighted. I’ve always wanted the opportunity to wear a crinoline, and I love it from the moment I put it on. I have a full length, wide-skirted coat which goes over the top, in a beautiful shade of dark red, trimmed with gingerbread men. I utterly love it! I was born to be Mother Ginger, I decide as I twirl my skirts. Mrs. Claus tells me that if it rains I won’t love it quite so much, because it will get wet and weigh about as much as several reindeer all put together.

I’m excited as the gates open for the first time. It’s a beautiful day for December, not too cold, not too wet. The lights on the Christmas trees twinkle, and before long there is a steady stream of children arriving with their parents. I realise quite quickly that my elaborate backstory isn’t going to work – there just isn’t time to tell each child all that. By half-way through the morning, I’ve shifted to asking them not to eat my gingerbread cottage, please, because I don’t want any holes in the roof of my house.

One little girl eyes me up speculatively, and eyes up the gingerbread cottage; I suspect she will be a lawyer when she grows up, she’s remarkably clear sighted for someone so young. She can see quite plainly that I’m not going to fit into the cottage, crinoline or no crinoline. ‘You don’t really live in there do you? It’s just pretend!’ she says, quite rightly. I agree with her. Yes, it’s just pretend, and make a mental note to alter my story. From now on, I don’t live in the cottage, which is clearly much too small for me; it’s where I keep my gingerbread men, and I don’t want them to get soggy if it rains. Nobody will see through that one, will they?

Image from Pixabay, Flutie8211

The day absolutely flies. We sing carols, we chat to children, the elves get up to mischief, Mrs. Claus tells stories and Santa gives out presents to shiny-eyed little ones who really, truly believe in him. Before I know it, the sun is setting and the lights shine out in the dusk. It’s time to go home, and change back into my normal self in jeans and a jumper. I wonder if Mrs. Claus would notice if I sneaked the crinoline into my backpack to take home with me?

I think she probably would.

Christmas at the Farm

Tomorrow is the day!

Three pairs of socks? Check!

Sheepskin gloves? Check!

Thermal base layer? Check!

You’d think I was off to conquer the Alps, or at the very least Helvellyn. No, I’m going to the community farm down the road. I’m not visiting it, mind you, I’m going to be working there weekends and school holidays until Christmas. I’m going to be Mother Ginger. She’s a friend of Santa and Mrs. Claus, you know, and she makes all the gingerbread to go into children’s Christmas stockings, and as such she will be waiting to greet hordes of excited children as they visit the farm over the next few weeks.

Gingerbread. Not made by me, but image from Pixabay (PublicDomainPictures)

She will be doing this, outside in whatever the weather has to throw at us this year. Given the amount of snow we’ve already had, I thought it would be wise to buy the sheepskin gloves. However, from the weather forecast, I’m more likely to be soaked by a downpour tomorrow than trekking through the snow and ice.

Christmas trees in the rain. (From Pixabay, user 3111)

I’ve been creating a backstory for Mother Ginger. She makes all the gingerbread men, and she has elves to help her decorate them – one smily face and three gumdrop buttons are what a gingerbread man needs! However, one of the elves got a bit carried away and created a gingerbread man in a pair of running shoes, and he’s run away. Now she’s looking for the naughty gingerbread man, but he keeps on running, calling over his shoulder ‘Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!’ as he vanishes off into the distance. I’m hoping that the children will want to help me try to spot my missing gingerbread man …

Gingerbread man. From Pixabay, Anncapictures.

I’m not entirely sure what to expect. Part of me is leaping up and down with excitement and possibilities, and the fact that Christmas at the Farm sounds almost like a novel title! However, the other part of me is looking nervously out of the window, and wondering if one pair of sheepskin gloves will actually be enough, and just how deep the mud is going to get if it rains all day tomorrow.

The one thing that I’m looking forward to most of all is that I’ll be doing something to help make Christmas magical for children, now mine are more-or-less grown up. The flickering candles of excitement in the eyes, the half-heard tingle of bells, the smell of frost in the air … and that’s just me!

See you at Newham Grange Farm tomorrow!