Families grow, lives transform and beloved traditions can change too…
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without seeing The Nutcracker, Mum,” Rachel said on the phone. “But things are just too hectic at the moment for me to stay for a weekend, and it’s too far to come over for the day.”
I suppressed a sigh. The two of us had been to a performance of The Nutcracker at our local cinema every December for the past fifteen years, starting back when Rachel was in her ballerina phase.
She even attended ballet lessons for a while, before other aspects of life took over, but the love stayed with her.
It remained one of the pleasures we shared as she grew up, along with the sheer comfort of watching romantic films on rainy afternoons, or even just baking cakes together.
I found out about the first screening by chance, from a poster in the foyer when the four of us – Dave, our son Jake, Rachel and myself – had been to see a family-friendly blockbuster together.
The children were still just at an age when they tolerated going to the cinema with their parents.
“Anyone fancy seeing this?” I asked, more in hope than expectation.
Dave and Jake backed away, but Rachel came and stood beside me, taking in the graceful Sugar Plum Fairy in an impossibly floaty tutu, Clara and her prince, and a slightly scary Drosselmeyer the toymaker with the rest of the cast and an enormous Christmas tree in the background.
There was one showing, three weeks away. I bought our tickets there and then.
It’s just as well I did. The place was packed. The audience was dominated by mothers and daughters of all ages, groups of female friends, couples, and excited little girls in ballet costumes.
All were transfixed by the exquisite dancing, powered along by Tchaikovsky’s score.
Barely a sweet wrapper was rustled as sheer concentration hung over the auditorium like a presence.
“I feel really Christmassy now,” Rachel declared as we came out, blinking and bemused, into the already dark December afternoon.
The trip became an annual event, as much a part of the festive season as Advent calendars and the switching on of the lights in town.
Even though it was always the same version and we knew the performance backwards, it didn’t matter. If anything, that seemed to increase the magic, bestowing a comforting familiarity and sense of ritual.
This year was different.
Not only had the children grown up and left home, but Rachel had moved away, her husband’s job taking them further afield, coinciding with their needing a bigger house.
They’d already announced that their first baby was due in late spring.
I knew time passed and things changed, but sometimes knowing something and the reality of its sinking in are two different things.
“Never mind – we can watch it on DVD when you stay for a few days over Christmas,” I told her.
“With a big bowl of popcorn,” Rachel added gleefully.
“Maybe it’ll be good to do things differently, Trish,” Dave suggested. “How about a day out, next Saturday?”
He named a touristy market town about thirty miles away, which we sometimes visited. It had black and white timbered cottages, ornamental gardens and a grand old theatre which had recently been restored to its former glory.
“We could always invite Rachel and Owen along,” he added. “It’s within reasonable reach for them. They’d probably enjoy an outing.”
On the day, the weather turned out to be perfect, crisp and clear.
The pretty town was decked out ready for Christmas, with the huge fir tree in the middle of the ornamental gardens covered in lights, carol singers in the market square and enticing aromas from festive stalls.
We ate in our favourite restaurant near the market, Dave reassuring me we would walk through the gardens afterwards.
After a leisurely, late lunch, he tapped a spoon against his coffee cup.
“I believe it’s time for the icing on the Christmas cake. Are you ready, Rachel?”
The three of them were grinning. Their grins widened when Dave produced to two tickets, handing one to me and the other to Rachel.
It took a minute for me to realise what mine said.
The Nutcracker, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, performed by…
There followed the name of a well-respected regional ballet company.
“I bought them on the quiet when they came on sale. If you set off now, you should make it in nice time to take your seats,” said Dave
Christmas has arrived,” Rachel sighed happily as the last of the applause died down and the house lights came up. “Different, but still perfect.”
I felt the same. Life may be changing, I realised, but it could still be just as good.
“If this baby’s a girl, I’m going to call her Clara, after the main character. A boy will be Peter, after Tchaikovsky.”
“Does Owen agree?”
“He doesn’t know yet. But he will.”
A new Clara. I smiled.