Dear children and young people,
Happy New Year! I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas and that Santa brought you lots of presents. Most importantly, I hope you all had a good rest and enjoyed spending time with your families.
Whilst putting up the Christmas tree and decorations this year (much earlier than usual) I got a little sad thinking about my friends and family knowing that we couldn’t all get together as we would have done in years gone by. However, after pulling myself together, I realised that, despite the pandemic and the sufferings endured by so many in 2020, Christmas was still a magical and blessed time and a time to be grateful for the little things in life. As we stood in the street on New Year’s Eve with our neighbours (very socially distanced of course) watching fireworks and heralding in another year, I began to think about January and its connotations with new life and new beginnings, so my memo will focus on this.
Did you know that the long Christmas holidays we enjoy today did not always exist and in years gone by, Christmas was considered to be just another working day? Well, I’ve discovered that, up to the 1950s in the UK, many Christmas customs were restricted to the upper classes and better-off families. The great majority of the population did not celebrate in the same way because they did not have the money to buy the trappings we all associate with Christmas today. For example, Christmas trees in ordinary homes were rare and Christmas dinner might consist of beef or duck or goose, but certainly not turkey. In fact, I remember my own dear mother bringing in some branches of a tree that we found on a winter walk in Ireland (where we lived when I was young), painting it white and decorating it with our homemade paper chains. With the addition of some colourful lights, it looked magical! White trees are all the rage now, so my mum must have been a real trendsetter!
Our Christmas stockings were my dad’s rugby socks with some hastily added tinsel to give them a bit of Christmas cheer – nothing like the shop bought ones my own children have. Our stockings were filled with things such as an apple, orange (not a chocolate one), some nuts and sweets – also (strangely) there was always a small lump of coal in the bottom of the stocking which I discovered much later was put there as a symbol of good luck!
Anyway, (as usual), I’ve gone off on a tangent and instead of talking to you about January and new beginnings, I’ve been harping on again about Christmas (it’s my age I’m afraid!).
January! Where did the name come from do you think? Well… the name derives from the Roman mythology and their god, Janus, who was depicted as having two faces. One face looked backwards to the past and the other looked forward to the future. Janus was also known to be the protector of gates and doorways and, in ancient Roman times, the gates of the temple of Janus were left open in times of war and closed in times of peace. Many ancient ruins, most notably the ones spotted by me on my trips to Rome and Pompeii have door portals with carvings on Janus decorating them.
Named for the Roman god Janus, protector of gates and doorways. Janus is depicted with two faces, one looking into the past, the other into the future. Also, in ancient Roman times, the gates of the temple of Janus were always left open in times of war and closed in times of peace. The metaphor of the two faces resonates with us as Janus (January) seems to be looking backwards to the year behind and forward into the year ahead. We are all (if you’re anything like me) desperate to forget 2020 and looking forward to new beginnings, but in another way, hasn’t 2020 brought us closer together too? We’ve had to spend more time with our families and thank goodness for mobile phones and WhatsApp – whatever would we have done without them? I know you young people are desperate for things to get back to normal and to be with your friends again, but you will be able in the future to share your experiences with your own children and tell them all about living through the pandemic and the new words that have come into our lexicon because of it. I hope in the future, however, that words such as ‘social distancing’ and ‘furlough’ are lost and forgotten forever and that we only have to wear masks at Halloween!
This latest lockdown has been very different to the last one and my walks in the park with dear Mr Moore are much less interesting than the ones we enjoyed in the spring. For example, there seems to be much more mud everywhere now and recently, I’ve actually had to have welly rescued by a kind child as I left it behind in some deep sludge near Keeper’s Pool whilst trying to wade across! How embarrassing that was! I thought I’d lost it forever but the kind young man who happened to have a fishing rod in his hand (don’t ask) fished it out of the mire and reunited me with it. Not the best of walks!
However, I did take some lovely photos at sunset when we were having an evening stroll a few weeks ago and I managed theses lovely ones of the ponies in the park – what do you think?
I love looking out for the mysterious little ponies in the woods and they always bring to mind a wonderful winter poem by Robert Frost called ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’. I had to learn the poem by heart (we used to have to do that in the Victorian days) and it’s stayed with me throughout my life. I often start reciting it to dear Mr Moore on our walks (he hates it when I do this, but tends to tolerate it). The poem is melancholic and quite haunting, but nevertheless I love it – ‘here she goes again’, I hear you mumble Apologies btw if I’ve mentioned this poem before. I think it’s a beautiful poem to read in January when the trees in the forests are dusted with frost and all is quiet and still.
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
I particularly love the words ‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep/But I have promises to keep’ as they are so eerie and mysterious – I wonder what secrets he had to keep?
I love poetry (as you probably already know), and I would really, really love it if you would send me some of your own poems about winter or your experiences during Christmas and New Year. There will be a prize for the winning poem and it will also be published on the website – so get writing!
As I said at the beginning of this memo, January is definitely a time for reminiscing about the past and making plans for the future. I can never stick to rigid New Year resolutions, but I know that I will never take nature for granted ever again after all the wonderful walks we’ve had during these past few very difficult and strange months.
As always, I want you to know that you are special, you are loved and you are all capable of great things. Remember to be kind to others and to yourselves, to help with those dishes and keep your bedrooms tidy. Remember to continue to work hard and make us all proud of you. Also, don’t forget that we are here for you and miss you all terribly – remote learning is great, but no substitute for seeing you all in School.
Before I finish, I have some birthday greetings (including some belated wishes) to impart: So…
To: Abdullah Ouda on 2nd January; Ben France on 4th January; Lewis Smith on 5th January; Jodie Andrew on the 6th January; Shahzaib Ahmed on the 7th January; Chelsea Cao on 8th January; Nadyne (Happy 18th Nadyne!) on 9th January; Joe Robson and Jamie Davis on the 10th January; Morgan Longmore on 11th January; Matthew Size on 12th January; Hope Stirland on 17th January; Raahil Rafi on 18th January and Harris Gohar on 19th January – I hope you had/have a wonderful day!
I know that some of you may be struggling with feelings of anxiety and sadness and that you may need someone to talk to at times. There are lots of websites that young people can visit to help them with these issues such as:
Childline : https://www.childline.org.uk/get-support/contacting-childline/
Telephone No: 0800 1111 (calls are free and help is available 24/7)
Young Minds: https://youngminds.org.uk/contact-us/
Telephone No: Call for free on 0808 802 5544 (9:30am – 4pm, Mon – Fri).
Both of these sites contain helpful resources and information for young people. Remember that you can also contact me at email@example.com – I will be able to contact any other members of staff you may like to talk to such as Mrs Good, Mrs De Sousa Bartlett or Mrs Sharman-Everton should you prefer to talk to them.
Anyway, dear children, please continue to do your best and remember what Janus might say: ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
Finally, I’ll leave you with some inspirational words from one of my favourite writers, Maya Angelou:
Love and best wishes.