Twinkling lights and tinsel-wrapped trees mark the arrival of the holidays - and the return of the midwives. Though runny noses and cold pains have hit hard this winter, it’s business as usual at Nonnatus House where we revisit the women on their latest adventure.
As tiny tots and new parents flood the clinic, the women are balancing full-time midwifery duties with their unofficial side hustles as community event planners. Annual picnics? Weddings? Christmas festivities? Anything goes, and with the holiday cheer in full swing, it’s all hands on deck as Poplar goes full-on Whoville.
When the 2019 Holiday Special opens, we reunite with Sisters Frances, Hilda, Monica Joan and Miss Higgins, this year’s Nonnatus House holiday elves helpers. With winter fairs held at the Iris Knight Institute and Christmas gatherings aplenty, their craftsmanship comes in handy — much to the dismay of anti-DIYer Sister Monica Joan — in assisting Miss Nadine’s Dancing School. As the women band together to fashion reindeer costumes for the dancers, Sister Hilda questions the majestic beast’s relationship to the holiday. To this, Sister Monica Joan enlightens them with the story of Saint Eustace, who once had a vision of Christ between the antlers of a white stag. (Reindeer. Stag. Close enough.) The tale is met with skepticism by her peers, despite their shared faith, but later serves as a source of inspiration and holiday *spirit* for Sister Monica Joan.
With reindeer costumes underway and only so much room for additional members of the Nonnatus House sewing club, one Nonnatan has alternative holiday plans in mind. As we join the rest of the midwives, Mother Mildred calls upon them to join her travels to the Outer Hebrides where a village there is in urgent need of medical care. Since there’s no crossing Mother Mildred — she is feisty, trust — the team is forced to pack their suitcases in the midst of their pre-Christmas celebrations and make the journey north. It’s not like they had plans with their loved ones or anything anyway. Trapped on a remote island in the dead of Scotland winter? ~~ Paradise~~
So after much reluctance, packing their heaviest winter coats, and bidding adieu to their friends, the Outer Hebrides crew makes their way to a new residence for the week. A cramped… er cozy train ride and bumpy drive later, they arrive at an abandoned church-turned-youth hostel for their stay. It screams fixer upper and haunted by ghosts of centuries past, but nothing to worry about here.
At home, however, Sister Monica Joan is quite displeased that she’s been left behind, having been deemed unfit to make the trek. She relays her frustrations to Sister Frances and confesses that during prayer she, like Saint Eustace, received a vision of the Lord in the form of a stag prior to the midwives’ departure. Believing this is a sign of God’s presence in the Outer Hebrides, she had hoped to join the others on the impromptu work retreat. Naturally, she isn’t the only one peeved.
As the majority of the Nonnatans adjust to their new off-grid surroundings, the absence of friends and loved ones during the holidays is also felt by the Buckles. Just as Fred leaves, Reggie returns home and Violet is understandably displeased that their family can’t be together for the merriment of the holidays. Yet since it’s out of their hands, Violet tries to make the most of it, inviting Reggie to help her with her duties as councilwoman around the neighborhood.
At Nonnatus House, where it’s cozy, they don’t require oil lamps, and it’s at least 10 degrees warmer than the Outer Hebrides, Sister Monica Joan is left unsatisfied by Mother Mildred’s orders to stay home. No one puts Sister Monica Joan in a corner. Always scheming, she brainstorms a way to join the others on a religious mission.
In a new lesson called Guilt Tripping 101, Sister Monica Joan complains to Sister Hilda of this unjust treatment. She feels that she’s been demoted to menial household tasks and claims she was barred from joining the trip due to her old age. Saddened that her fellow sister feels this way and worried about causing offense, Sister Hilda declines the notion that she’s too frail to do little more than make holiday decorations and sew reindeer antlers, and encourages Sister Monica Joan to take on more if she feels mentally and physically capable. And in what will soon become one of her biggest regrets, she further allows Sister Monica Joan to pull money from the house’s petty cash to fund these new ventures.
So while the midwives remain unknowing of Sister Monica Joan’s spontaneous adventure, they settle into the first day of work in the Outer Hebrides with their first clinic. To their surprise, they’re greeted by a large number of families at the village hall who are eager to learn more about the strangers hailing from Poplar and their work. Promises of free tea and cookies may have helped but hey, whatever works! There they meet their first patient, Janet Macaskilll. Married to Angus, the village lighthouse keeper, and granddaughter to Mrs. Morag Norrie, who supervises the hall, Janet is eight months pregnant with her first child.
Meanwhile, following her conversation with Sister Hilda, Sister Monica Joan sets off on her quest - because if you give her an inch, she’ll take a mile. Or a couple hundred. Using the money Sister Hilda so generously offered to her (oops!), Sister Monica Joan hops a train to the Outer Hebrides. However, it’s not long before Sister Hilda discovers the parting note her sneaky pal has left behind explaining the reason for her departure, and she promptly phones the local police to track her sister’s whereabouts to ensure her safety.
Spoiler - she makes it to Scotland alive and well! Thanks to a local couple indebted to Trixie and Shelagh after an emergency delivery, Sister Monica Joan hitches a ride from the Stornoway police station to the village. Her fellow Nonnatans are both glad for her safety and impressed by her solo trip, but Mother Mildred is not amused.
There’s little time for reprimanding, however, as events in the village take a turn as soon as Sister Monica Joan arrives. Across the way, Janet begins to go into labor, and with no one else available to supervise the lighthouse, she and Angus are unable to travel to the clinic for help. With her labor quickly progressing, they’re forced to send an urgent message through the coast guard to the midwives.
To make matters worse, her delivery has fallen on the Lord’s Day. The local ferryman refuses to take the midwives to the lighthouse, unable to undertake labor on this day, and since holding him captive and/or swimming their way there doesn’t sound like a good option, Lucille, Valerie, Dr. Turner and Fred convince him to lend his boat to them for this emergency. Delivering children. Sewing reindeer costumes. Starting a crew team. They’re a group of many talents.
When they arrive, they find Janet ready for delivery and her husband slightly traumatized. Don’t worry Angus, the midwives are here. Lucille notes that Janet is pyrexic and they’re surprised to hear about the unusual origin of her labor pains, which have been occurring along the side of her stomach. Though Dr. Turner seems concerned, the entire team puts it out of their minds as Janet begins to deliver. With the help of Lucille and Valerie it’s not long before she births a healthy baby boy. Yay!
Ok, but back to Dr. Turner’s worries. Following the successful delivery, Janet’s stomach pain returns as everyone had feared. She assumes she’s going into labor with a second baby (and it’s not the first time the midwives have had such a surprise), but Dr. Turner deduces that she has acute appendicitis. Of course, upon the discovery that Janet will require surgery, a massive winter storm rolls in trapping them all at the lighthouse. But what else is new? Since the coast guard is unable to organize a medical evacuation, Dr. Turner is the man on the job. A job he doesn’t want, as it turns out.
Fred finds the typically calm and collected doctor fighting down nerves over the operation and learns that Dr. Turner last removed an appendix during WWII. Struggling with PTSD, Dr. Turner recalls that his worst fear during the war was that his hands would freeze up during surgery on the dozens of soldiers he had to care for. With the low temperatures brought on by the storm and having to improvise yet again, he’s now panicked about the outcome of his procedure on Janet. With a few encouraging words from his friend, who also experienced the traumas of war, Dr. Turner proceeds with the surgery and uses the Macaskill’s kitchen as a makeshift operating room. Further complications arise when the power goes out, and everyone, even Fred, must help, but with his dream team by his side, Dr. Turner carefully carries out the operation. He removes Janet’s appendix only hours before it would have burst, ultimately saving her life.
Back at home, the Christmas prep continues. While those who stayed behind in Poplar have not been dealt with anything nearly as dire as surgery by candlelight, Reggie has been glum over Fred’s absence. To keep him occupied, Violet convinces Reggie to join her and the Youth Club to help assemble holiday care packages. He admits he’d rather be making paper chain decorations at home, a tradition he’s always had with Fred, but joins to appease her.
This doesn’t last long. When they arrive at the Iris Knight Institute, Reggie finds himself out of his element and has little interest in the Youth Club activities. While Violet is busy, he slips away to work on his paper chains alone, which Miss Higgins immediately takes note of. Accompanying him for this Christmas tradition (because no one should be alone on the holidays), she learns that Reggie aspires to be in the Guiness Book of World Records for the longest paper chain the world.
Since nothing says the holidays quite like competitive crafting, Miss Higgins takes it upon herself to call the book’s publisher and sends in an application on behalf of Reggie and Poplar for the challenge. Though Violet is initially hesitant to see this through, Miss Higgins’ kind deed leads to a community-wide effort to help Reggie achieve his dream, including in the Outer Hebrides where Fred is missing home.
Meanwhile, as Reggie works toward his record-breaking goal, Sister Monica Joan answers another calling. Once the worst of the storm has subsided, she feels the force she has been anticipating since her vision in Poplar. Never mind helping with deliveries, she has an important meeting to get to. She’s pulled by a presence to a remote location on the island where a herd of deer have gathered. Amongst them, a white stag appears. THE white stag. It’s a miraculous day, and to make the told-you-so moment that much sweeter, she’s able to share the stag’s presence with Sister Julienne and Mother Mildred who followed after her. Accepting Sister Monica Joan’s story as truth, the sisters take this blessing as a signal that their work on the island has been fulfilled.
It’s finally time to say goodbye to the new friends they’ve made and prepare for the journey home. But before they leave, the midwives receive a parting gift of paper chains when word of Reggie’s mission spreads through the village. The show of gratitude is a welcome sight to the midwives who can say farewell knowing they’ve made a lasting impact in the Outer Hebrides. They arrive in Poplar just before Christmas and just in time for another celebratory occasion as the entire community comes out to support Reggie with hundreds of paper chains for a world record. It truly is the most magical time of the year!