In modern times, with all the comforts that the post war world has ushered in, it is, perhaps, hard to imagine the days which Dickens has so vividly recorded for us when the workhouse and the beggar were part of the daily scene and the world was, as Disraeli remarked, for the few – the very few. Although with the advance of the welfare state the character of Christmas has changed and its true meaning has been lost amidst the onslaught of commercialism, it still remains a season of goodwill and a time when hearts are strangely touched by the magic of the occasion. The changing face of Christmas has perhaps been most marked with the apparent change in weather. Traditionally, the season should be white but few Christmases in recent times have lived up to expectations.
There can rarely have been a Christmas as that which Holloway, the 19th. Century historian, describes in Rye in 1836. “A few days previously it snowed a little; on the night of the 24th. it snowed and continued to do so until 7am. of the 25th. It then cleared until about 2pm., when it came on again, and continued without intermission until 5 or 6am. of the 26th. when there was the deepest snow I ever beheld. The roads were completely impassable; the mail cart could proceed no further than Beckley, and was three hours getting there. There was no coach from London for seven days; no post for three.
The streets of Rye were so full of snow that the inhabitants employed seventy men for five days to carry it away. It was calculated that ten to fifteen thousand sheep were lost in the snow, in the various marshes in the neighbourhood.” Clarke in his “Guide and History of Rye” becomes almost lyrical in his description:- “One sight above all was grand, and those who saw it can bear testimony to the same. From the foot of Rye Hill to the top, on the right, the snow had drifted amazingly high, nearly perpendicular, and in such folds, in such taste, and in such freaks as to out-vie all the ingenuity of man; in fact, the scene was sublime, far surpassing any casts sculptile ever yet designed.” What will this Christmas bring – snow, hail, rain, fog, thunder? No one can foresee and, perhaps, that is a good thing for if Christmas is nothing else, it is a day for surprises for us all and not in the least in the matter of the weather.
“Rye’s Own” December 2003
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