I don’t know if it’s a side effect of excessive amounts of party food and one too many glasses of fizz, but there was something about Vanessa Redgrave’s opening voiceover on the Call the Midwife Christmas special. It had my bottom lip wobbling before the episode had even started...
“We like the right faces around the table, the right carols to be sung," she said, "the promise that this is how it is and will always be. Because that is Christmas. The one still point in a world forever turning." Before we were even reintroduced to our favourite midwives I was a little watery-eyed.
Jenny, Trixie, Chummy and co haven’t been on the box since the beginning of the year, but in tellyland we’d only moved on two months.
Jenny was flirting with her dreamy new boyfriend Alec – all naughty winks, sneaking into his flat and flirting over garibaldi biscuits - Chummy was up to her elbows in newborn baby business and sweet Shelagh was planning a quiet wedding to dishy Doctor Turner. So quiet that she hadn’t even invited her old Nonnatus House chums and was planning on wearing an ugly grey suit.
But preparations for the Turners’ impending nuptials, and for Christmas Day, were put on hold when an unexploded WW2 bomb was found in the vicinity and the entire population of Poplar was evacuated to a local hall in the middle of the night. “I have to say I feel rather like Mary when Herold decreed the cull of the first born and she had to flee to Egypt with the infant Jesus,” said Chummy.
While the nuns got to work brewing never-ending cups of tea and bought back rationing so that there wasn’t a run on the biscuits – “Don’t go putting any bourbons out. They create expectations we’ll struggle to fulfill” – Chummy decided to entertain the children by becoming Akela again and organising a Christmas party and some jolly games of hockey.
But the fun was cut short when serious childhood illness Polio made an appearance (Call the Midwife is never cheery for long), spreading among the evacuated littluns. Feeling a bit peaky, Doctor Turner’s son Timothy began to secretly munch on painkillers like dolly mixture, but his self-medication didn’t work for long and the little lad soon collapsed and was rushed to hospital – postponing Shelagh’s impending wedding day.
Meanwhile Jenny and Trixie were distracted, helping a man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (though it wasn't called that then, of course) and his pregnant wife. Trixie, the bright, eternally happy midwife, turned tearful, revealing that her father was a victim of it too, so her and Jenny set out to break all the rules to try and help him. The nuns aren’t impressed, but they insisted the soon-to-be dad should be present at the birth of his first child, and a step towards the future of midwifery was taken.
And then. The bomb that had caused all the trouble was (almost) safely detonated, shaking the foundations of the community, but signalling the start of Christmas.
All seemed well, as the East End-ers left the rescue centre and headed home, but the nurses where in for a shock when it transpired that the only casualty of the explosion had been Nonnatus House. And so, like the girls themselves, we said goodbye to the midwives’ home - “When Nonnatus House was demolished we heard its dying fall only in the distance.”
Months later, with memories of Christmas, the bomb and Timothy’s illness fading, Shelagh and Dr Turner finally got their happy ending (with Shelagh clad in a much more appropriate white gown and flanked by her friends). And a stubborn hyacinth, which refused to bloom over Christmas when Sister Monica Joan had urged it to, choose to hold back its blue petals until Shelagh walked down the aisle. Honestly. How a potted plant can provoke tears I don’t know, but it did all the same. Perhaps it's time I lay off the mulled wine...
In Call the Midwife, there is always shade as well as light. There are no miraculous recoveries, no fairytale endings. There is still sadness, poverty and despair. And the ultimate message of this year's festive tearjerker is that things get in the way of "perfect" Christmases - and of weddings and of life’s plans. Unexpected dramas interfere. Which is all the more reason to cherish your loved ones this festive season, right? It might sound silly and sentimental (even sugary sweet) but that's what Christmas is all about, isn't it?
“Sometimes Christmas is not a still point," concluded Redgrave. "Snow swirls and melts away and the day doesn’t offer up the peace that we imagined but in the darkness seeds awake and green shoots unfurl towards the light. Fate might shake us but our roots run deep and we have love to water them. And so we bloom where we are planted, turning our faces to the sun.”
Sorry, I think I might be getting a little bit carried away. Anyone got a tissue?
Call the Midwife returns in the new year on BBC1