What I love most about Christmas is the sheer sparkling joy of it all. This is something that today’s poem manages to capture perfectly. The child speaker of the poem is enchanted by a magical trip to the Christmas market with his/her beloved Nanna. Notice the beautiful description: the stalls ‘shimmer in a splash of gold, / Buttery light’; the tinsel is a ‘shrill cascade…set to fall / In sea of shivering colours on the frosty / Foot-pocked earth’; the street is ‘coated with a Christmas-cake layer of frost’. The child cannot conceive of a greater happiness than this. In fact, ‘nobody under all those stars’ is ‘a half of a half of a half as happy’ as this child at Christmas.
Tall, white-haired in her widow’s black,
My Nanna took me, balaclav’d from the cold,
To where stalls shimmered in a splash of gold,
Buttery light from wind-twitched lamps and all
The Christmas hoards were heaped above my eyes,
A shrill cascade of tinsel set to fall
In a sea of shivering colours on the frosty
Foot-pocked earth. I smelt the roasted nuts,
Drank heavy sarsaparilla in thick glasses far
Too hot to hold and chewed a liquorice root
That turned into a soggy yellow brush. The man
Who wound the barrel-organ let me turn
The handle and I jangled out a tune –
And ‘Lily of Laguna’ spangled out into the still night air
To go on spinning through the turning years.
Then we walked home. I clutched a bright tin car
With half-men painted on the windows, chewed a sweet
And held my Nanna’s hand as she warmed mine,
One glove lost turning out the clattering music.
And I looked up at the circus of the stars
That spread across the city and our street
Coated with a Christmas-cake layer of frost,
And nobody under all those stars I thought
Was a half of a half of a half as happy as me.