I just realized I've forgotten to tell you about the Yule tree. I've written about it in years past, but this year, no mention. It was already up when I and the other "elves" decorated the Great Hall that night, trimming the tree is an informal campus activity. None of the masters helped--it's our tree--though soon after we finished both Kit and Joy arrived from nowhere (none of us could tell whether they'd been on campus or just arrived) and sat together in a little love-seat, wrapped in the same blanket and drinking mugs of something, looking at the tree. At one point they both sang "Oh, Christmas Tree," except Kit sang it in German, to the obvious surprise of Joy. Also, Joy can't sing on key, something I hadn't known before. When they were done, they giggled like school-girls and spilled some of their chocolate on the blanket. I fetched them a dish-towel from the Great Hall Kitchen.
Anyway, the tree itself is artificial but scented with fir-oil so it smells right, and it looks realistic. It's quite tall, because the Great Hall has a high ceiling, maybe twelve feet. All the decorations are in the same color range, all on the same theme, and the lights are white--the whole thing looks very elegant. In the interior of the tree are balls of various sizes, yellow and orange and red, they look like fruit and catch and reflect the light. Then there are ivory-colored ribbons rimmed with gold, like vines hanging from the branches--this year we added a long string of bright red cranberries and another of popped corn. On the outermost branches clung blown-glass birds, each one detailed and lifelike and different from the others, and all of no species I've ever seen this side of a dream. On the very top of the tree is a pose-able doll clinging to the top leader like she's climbing it, a fairy dressed in a short Greek tunic with a bow and a quiver full of arrows slung over her shoulder.
The masters all clearly like the tree, because they take the time to come look at it, but it's not their tree. They have their own--I remember seeing it my first year when I was on the janitor team--it's a little live red cedar, which is really a species of juniper, in a big pot. It usually lives in their outdoor courtyard, but they bring it in for a few days around Yule and decorate it. As I remember, the decorations are a motley lot. I expect that each master (except maybe Greg?) brought in a few treasured family ornaments and added them.
This year, just like the last two, we had a party on Yule night and a lot of the people who had gone home came back to join us. Kit and Greg attended the party, but the others didn't. I assume they had their own party up on the fourth floor. They must have been up there and they could not have been sleeping, because we on the first floor were making too much noise, singing and dancing and goofing around. Hours went by.
And, the whole time the weather was awful--a cold, driving rain and wind, with the temperature gradually dropping through the night. The weather worried me because I knew we'd have to go out in it, but the yearlings didn't know and I didn't tell them. They danced on, unconcerned.
Long about dawn, Lou broke it to them--we were going out. It took some cajoling to get everyone to agree to it without knowing why, and frankly I wasn't sure there was much point, given that dawn would be just about invisible, but I put on a brave face and helped shepherd everyone out the door into the frigid, wet dark. Sometimes, you just have to act on faith.
As I said, the temperature had been dropping, and by that point the air hovered just around freezing. The wind had died back a bit, but the rain had turned to an intermittent spitting sleet. The ground was sloppy with an inch or so of slush and a and we splashed along, breaking a thin crust of ice with every step, our toes freezing already, and none of us allowed to talk as per the rules of the ritual.
We climbed the mountain and sat down to wait for the dawn. Before long, Charlie--invisible in the dark behind us--began to play "Here Comes the Sun" on his tin whistle, repeating the song over and over. The others joined him, but given the weather, their instruments were different. I heard no guitar, no violin. Instead I heard a harmonica (Kit can play any instrument she picks up), two kazoos, and a rattle. The song went over and over and over as the sky grew gradually lighter, and the rising sun was visible for just a moment before it lifted into the dense cloud. At that moment of sunshine we all began to sing here comes the sun! although the sun was gone again before the song was over--but before the song was over, I am not kidding, the sleet switched over into snow.
It was a thick, warm snow and it built up quickly on the wet but frigid ground and all along the winter trees and on our shoulders and hair and eyelashes. Song finished, we shrieked and laughed and threw slush-balls at each other in the first morning of winter (though Kit calls it mid-winter), the first morning of the returning sun.
The masters had not brought up drinks and candy this time. They played in the snow like the rest of us (Charlie thanked us for bringing the nicer weather up) for a few minutes but then Joy and Charlie insisted we all get back to the Mansion before we froze. And in fact we were all shivering pretty seriously by that point. As we got inside, Joy, who, remember, in our Healing Master, ordered us to all take warm showers and put on dry clothes before breakfast and presents. So we did, racing upstairs like a herd of obedient children.
By the time we got back it was well after nine in the morning and the view out through the windows was a white wonderland. The temperature was still dropping, because the flakes were smaller, swirling down out of a pale grey sky in the winter's first true, heavy snowstorm. Inside, the wood stove was going strong and everything was gloriously warm. The Great Hall smelled of hot stove and oatmeal and peppermint and chocolate and evergreens, and each of us had a bag of goodies and little toys to open (organized by a student committee--everybody but the yearlings had kicked in a few dollars. It's possible to be a kid and a grown-up at the same time). The Sprouts were there, along with their relevant adults, so many people that the party sprawled out into the Bird Room and the Rose Room and the Library, because we couldn't all fit in the Great Hall.
We played with our toys and ate cookies and candy until, one by one, we all more or less crashed.
The last thing I noticed before I fell asleep myself was that Greg had not gone upstairs to bed as he had in years past. Instead he had fallen asleep on the floor, stretched out behind one of the couches, apparently mid-way through breakfast. And Greg's Cat was drinking his coffee.