*if you’re wondering ‘does Katya hate herself for writing ‘Harpy Holidays?’, then the answer is YES, desperately so, but what can I say? I’m a slave to the beat and a glutton for punishment. Boom Boom.
Now back to business.
This year was my first Christmas away from home.
I was spending the holidays with my harp teacher Deborah Henson-Conant, a self-confessed Noel-Nonchalant, and her family were going away, so it would be just the two of us. Not doing Christmas. You may think this statement seems at odds with the picture above, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But I’ll come to that shortly.
In the run up to Chrimbus herself, friends and family became increasingly concerned.
‘But Katya!’ they cried (collectively) ‘Won’t you be lonely and sad, without family or turkey to warm the cockles of your stocking, and bereft of British Christmas telly?’
I think they all pictured my wizened, grinch-like form, nose pressed against the windows of nearby family homes, with eggnog-laced tears (or perhaps even just nog) freezing on my face as they fell.
(This is how I imagine Rudolph before his great redemption scene - pre-that fateful ‘foggy Christmas Eve’ but post-never being allowed to join in any reindeer games.)
Thankfully, it was not so.
What happened instead, was that Christmas itself was blissfully unfestive. I woke up late, and Deborah made us waffles and fancy coffee, different enough from my usual breakfast regimen (Trader Joe’s Multigrain Os - you gotta love those Os - with a milky tea) to feel like a special Christmas treat. For Lunch and Dinner, however, we feasted on Bran Flakes. Well, Raisin Bran Flakes. I do have standards after all. And we spent the day working, walking, thinking and talking. The least Christmassy Christmas ever, but pretty excellent nonetheless.
On Christmas Eve, however, we embraced the holiday wholeheartedly, and on our own terms.
At around 9.30pm, Deborah announced that she wanted to make a Christmas Grotto, and spend the rest of the evening playing carols. I was surprised to say the least - this was a turnaround of Dickensian proportions.
So, like the industrious little elves that we are, we set to work.
I strapped on my headlamp (sure, I have a headlamp, and what of it?) and went forraging in the basement for decorations. Mining for JOY.
When I returned, triumphantly wielding a box of twinkly lights and baubles, we peered around, and realised that our Grotto-Making ambitions would need to be somewhat reined in (ho ho ho) due to the noticeable absence of a tree.
But this didn’t hold us back for long.
‘What could be more tree-like than a harp?!’
‘Almost nothing, Deborah.’ I replied, Igor to her Festive Dr. Frankenstein.
Behold, the first stage of Operation Grottify (oh, that sounds less jolly than I thought it would. But I will not be discouraged!):
In the background here, you can see a little scene that if you squint a bit, could almost pass for a nativity.
In fact, it is a tiny orchestra made up of chess pieces, cardboard bits, and plastic animals. Deborah made it when she was planning a show with a symphony orchestra and wanted to be able to choreograph the show, in miniature (The show was called Invention and Alchemy - and went on to be nominated for a Grammy, which makes this funny little diorama all the more wonderful). The woodwind are turkeys (this is almost getting too appropriate), the brass are plastic pigs, the strings are an array of chess pieces, the harp, a giraffe the conductor is an Elephant. Deborah herself, as the orchestral soloist at the front, is a Stegosaurus. Standard.
Behold, a manger orchestra!
I defy you not to love this little guy:
If this doesn’t say ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus!’ I don’t know WHAT does.