I love this time of year: the vibrant cocktail of Hebridean weather, woolly socks and snuggly snoods, candles and a glowing stove on dark afternoons, the gutsy flavours of Northern European peasant food, the indulgent aromas of spices and intense sweetness of dried fruit. I particularly enjoy Advent, I like the concept of looking forwards, anticipating, waiting and preparing; and it is immaterial whether it’s Christmas, Yule, or Shabe Yaldā. It is the antidote to the modern cult of instant gratification and it is a great shame that it has becen usurped as the festival of the cult of shopping and consumerism. Fortunately living on the edge of the world I can dismiss the siren calls of the marketing men with bah humbug, consign their spam to the great cyber darkness, put the junk mail into the recycling bin and get on with enjoying the preparations for a simple croft Christmas.
At this point I should explain that the croft house will not be decked with holly, ivy and the folderols associated with the Dickensian, New England, Scandinavian or whatever contrived version of Christmas is currently in vogue. There will be candles, driftwood, bowls of spices and herbs, clove studded oranges and definitely no bling. Who need fairy lights when I have velvety dark skies strung with skeins of stars?
If you think this sounds a little dour and fundamentalist perhaps the influence of the Wee Frees (apologies Free Church of Scotland) lingers throughout the islands even though South Uist and Barra are predominantly Catholic. Originally Advent was all about spiritual preparation and abstinence, and as an atheist with hedonistic, pagan leanings (or is it the other way round?) neither are on my agenda. However, the Lord of Misrule and the Abbot of Unreason will both be invited to preside over our Feast of Fools.
My Christmas shopping list reveals that I am seriously at the risk of committing one of the sins of excess or more likely developing type 2 diabetes. The dried fruit, nuts, spices. exotic condiments, conserves, sugars and syrups, not to mention the pomegranates, cranberries and citrus fruit are purchased without guilt despite the accumulation of food miles. I enjoy cooking the traditional Christmas foods, both savoury and sweet, probably more than eating them. Essentially it is all about sharing with friends and delighting those you love. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, a glass of mulled wine with some mince pies or farmhouse cheeses with homemade bread and chutney.
Now that I no longer have an extended family to cosset I have eschewed the fruit-laden Christmas cake and pudding in favour of smaller confections. I have now recovered from the trauma of the Revenge of the Gingerbread Men and I am going to try some new recipes. To mark the start of Advent, a little something that’s not too rich and fruit laden. A minor success as the Apple and Pecan Muffins vanished in a thrice so this afternoon I had to put on the apron and start again. There is no higher praise than a rapidly emptying cake tin.