Christmas in Wales sounds very romantic to my American friends and family. And it is. Once you get used to the cold, cloudy days. I celebrated yesterday’s dry afternoon beachcombing Penarth’s stony beach, and today’s afternoon sunshine with a walk around our Llanishen neighborhood. I was more excited today anticipating my walk in the fresh air, than my daughter was last night waiting for Father Christmas.
We found a way to combine walking with last-minute shopping this year — my husband rediscovered the train. Llanishen has a very romantic old train station, and it’s a quick and easy way in to the Queen Street shopping district in downtown Cardiff. Twice now we’ve avoided the holiday traffic and the miniature buildings they call car parks – very scary places for an American like me, used to driving a mid-size SUV. But on the train, just eight minutes and two stops down the line, and you’ve arrived!
Queen Street is better than San Francisco’s shopping district. It’s a pedestrian mall, like Boulder, Colorado, but with white paving stones and tall buildings. There’s no animated Macy’s display, but there’s a Welsh crafts fair, Christmas lights that look like snow falling, and street vendors selling Pasha-whatever scarves, Nordic-looking caps, and an assortment of Santa hats.
And of course, like any other city, Cardiff has street performers and beggars. A men’s choir sang for shoppers in an acoustically friendly spot, collecting money for a local charity. A juggling entrepreneur impressed us juggling big knives, followed by flaming torches. (I watched that last bit peeking around my former rugby player of a husband. Those big shoulders made nice, safe place to watch the action.)
I think my daughter’s favorite part of downtown is the beggars. She instantly recognizes the chance to be helpful, and will launch into a bidding war if she thinks I’m being stingy with our change. Mind you, here in Wales, some of those coins are pound coins, worth $1.50 apiece. But the joy she gets from leaving change on their hats evaporates any conservative tendencies that I might have.
Opportunities to be charitable aren’t confined to downtown. On Christmas Eve, in the local Sainsbury’s grocery store, a school wind ensemble was playing in the foyer, raising money for a children’s charity. “Mama….” So I emptied my pockets of coins, filling her cupped hands to the brim with copper pennies and tuppence and whatever silver was left. The melody as she spilled the coins into the bucket would’ve fit in perfectly at a casino.
Later that night, at the Kristingle service at St. Isan’s, they took up a collection for another children’s charity. Out of coins, I pulled a note from my wallet, a little disappointed that the paper was so quiet as I dropped it into the offering plate. But the warden smiled, “Thank you for being so generous,” and I smiled back. Right. It isn’t the sound of the gift. Or the size, really. It’s the giving.
Happy Christmas, from Wales.