A Sort of Christmas Story A Christmas tradition with heart

Issue: Winter 2011
How you can keep your hands busy when listening to the radio and watching TV is too boring.

Every year on the third Saturday of November my partner Janet and I eagerly head off to the Anglican Church Christmas Bazaar in Basel. It is one of the social highlights of the year and attracts hundreds of expats and Swiss. We enter the doors of the Oekolampad Church, the big brown brick building where the bazaar is held, shortly after the doors open at 9:00. Aiming directly for the café we meet old friends, and chat over cream tea and delicious homemade scones served by British ladies in frilly aprons. As the tables fill up, we know it is time to make space for others with a craving for traditional baked goods, and head over to browse through the section where donated used English books are sold for a couple of francs each. Among the neat rows of crime novels, biographies and travel books, I always find something. Once I even bought two books, which I had donated to the church only the day before!

With our backpacks filled with books, we saunter over to the main hall where we explore the brocante and various stalls lining the walls. One is laden with UK products such as teas, dried mustard, custard powder, Christmas puddings and, of course, homemade jellies, jams and chutneys. At other stalls you can buy handicrafts, jewellery, Christmas cards, crackers and candles, second-hand clothes. But near the children's corner there is a special table where a little old lady has been selling her knitwear for years. She is the storybook kind of granny right down to the rimless glasses. I always go there and buy socks because they are the best in the world. Who knits genuine woolen socks anymore for just 18 francs a pair? Every time I say, "I think your socks are wonderful. I buy two pairs every year." With a demure smile, she thanks me for the compliment, but I can see that she doesn't remember me. After all, she has a lot of happy customers.

"You know," she says with a light German-Swiss accent, "I find just listening to the radio or watching TV boring, so I knit to keep my hands busy."                                          

"Well, I hope you keep on knitting for a long time," I say and leave.

It is noon and people are queuing up for a typical British lunch of Cornish pasties, shepherd's  pie with chutney, apple crumble and bottles of English beer and ale. As we search for an empty table, we run into more friends and acquaintances, many of whom we only saw at last year's bazaar. Soon a local group of Morris Dancers, with bells jingling on their trouser legs, appears to entertain us with their rhythmic steps and tapping. The afternoon lingers on while I enjoy an ale or two, maybe even a third. We engage in some lively discussions while we await the results of the raffle. Everyone is hoping to win a prize. By 4pm the crowd dissipates and the volunteers begin dismantling the stalls. We say good-bye to everyone, in particular the Chaplain of the Anglican Church, Reverend Geoff Read, and leave the hall. I usually take a last look at the table where my Swiss lady is clearing away what little is left of her knitwear, and look forward to seeing her again the following November. I realise that I don't even know her name.

The year goes by fast and it's time again for the Anglican Church Christmas Bazaar. We have our regular cream tea with friends, and then I browse through the used books while my partner lays in a stock of jam and tea. As usual, I buy almost as many books as I have donated, and wonder when I'll find the time to read them.

I go to the stall with Christmas cards and buy some to send to friends in Canada and the United States. Afterwards I turn toward that special table with its array of new knitwear, but instead of the little old Swiss lady, another woman is in her place. I assume she has stepped out for a few minutes, but then I see a sign on the table, "Last Chance to Buy Franky's Socks". "Where's the lady who knits all these great socks?" I ask the woman rather hesitantly.

"Oh, you mean Frau Frank?" she says. "We all call her Franky. I'm afraid she passed away two months ago and I'm here to sell off the last of her knitting."

"I'm very sorry to hear that. How old was she?" I ask, feeling sad about losing such a kind, familiar face.

"Ninety-four," the woman answers. "If you want any socks, you'd better hurry. They have always been very popular."

I buy three pairs in my size, hoping they will last a long time.

Now this Christmas when we're in our chalet high in the Alps and it is snowy and cold, but my feet are warm as toast, I will be thinking of you, Franky, and how all those years you listened to the radio or watched the telly while busily clicking away with your knitting needles… and you never missed a stitch.  


In memory of Franky, who knitted the best socks in the world.  

Image/Edi Barth


Edi Barth, a Swiss/American cartoonist /tattoo artist, will draw a witty cartoon (also in colour) of whatever subject you want for that special occasion. He is the author of "Menue Surprise" (available from the author). His cartoons and illustrations for ad campaigns have been published in many magazines and newspapers.



Author: Roger Bonner

Swiss writer/poet who runs a writing/editing business, Right Style. A collection of his funniest stories and columns entitled "Swiss Me" (with illustrations by Edi Barth) is available from Bergli Books or in bookshops throughout Switzerland.

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