|We left room under the tree for Dundee, who loves laying there|
It has been a lovely, if somewhat bittersweet, Christmas here at Patchwork Cottage (an unofficial name given to our little house by my Mother, because of the miscellany of materials that cover the exterior.) Lovely for all the usual reasons—sheer beauty, warm emotions, memories, familial love, traditions, contemplation, companionship, time off from my job –but also a bit sad; due not just to the sweet melancholy engendered by all of the above, but also, primarily, because of my Mother’s continuing decline into dementia, and then my son’s non-appearance due to flu, and my daughter’s non-appearance due to burn-out and the need to take time to reconnect with her and her husband’s own home in New York and all the solace therein. Well, this last is actually not sad-making, I am happy for her to have time off to just indulge in home-life without dealing with holiday travel stresses. My son, who lives locally, is on the mend, having, as usual, not even let us know he was ill. He travels a different orbit and we never know when he may or may not communicate/turn up.
Nevertheless, the pervading mood of the holiday (so far—I insist on all 12 days’ worth of celebration) has been one of wonder and gratitude. Wonder, because, no matter how often I experience it, the physical transformation of our home wrought by the Christmas tree, the tiny lights strung on wreaths and garlands which festoon every room, massed candles, the festive music and aromas of special foods being lovingly prepared, is such a source of joy! I told my Mother, as we watched Baryshnikov dance the Nutcracker, that one of the reasons I so loved Christmas was because it was a time when the appearance of my physical surroundings almost matched the magical world inside my head (where I probably spend way too much time.)
Well, I guess that is the whole point (once you get beyond mere shelter) of inhabiting a home at all: to create an environment that reflects and nourishes your own senses and sensibilities as nowhere else can, your intimate space into which you can beckon family and select friends. Holiday decorating is that, on steroids. All the decorating excesses that would be bad taste any other time are allowed at Christmas. Though I draw the line at two items: those hideous, bloated, inflatable plastic Santas and Snowmen; and exterior Christmas lights that operate in such a way as to send susceptible persons into epileptic shock. You know, those lights that race, flash, jerk, change color and direction--! No, give me the still, silent grace of strands of white light drifting from the eaves, or colored bulbs illuminating the façade of the house, tracing against the night that familiar icon that says “home.” Or spirals of lights outlining the primal forms of trees, casting their glow onto the carpet of snow on the lawn around them. Silent night, still night. Give me Christmas lights that echo that aesthetic—the deep silence and stillness of winter, the quiet of animals hunkered down in earthen dens or straw-insulated barns, the evocative pattern of a window cast in warm, supple light on the snow outside, bearing silent witness to the human warmth within.
The wonder of the Birth of Christ is not absent from my Christmas. I still call the winter holidays by the name honoring that event. Having been raised a Roman Catholic, it’s true I have an atavistic tug towards all those religious elements that form the “true meaning” of Christmas to so many. Yet, other, older impulses draw me just as compellingly—the winter festivals celebrated since long before the advent of Christ or even his father, that rather sour-tempered Judaic patriarchal god. Oh, how long ago the snows fell, how long our memories dwell, our sagas tell of nurturing the light, seeking the warmth against the endless night, marking the settings of the Sun, until the night that brought us the dawn of the returning Star. The Winter Solstice, the greatest of the olden holidays, (usurped by the greatest of the Christian holidays, Christmas) the rebirth of the star that gives life to this planet. The source of physical life and the source of spiritual life combined in one season--what more could we ask….?
And gratitude—what makes one count one’s blessing more than the winter holidays? There must be some kind of atavistic wellspring of victory about surviving the harshness of winter, a primordial memory of overcoming the double-whammy of the cold death coupled with cold winter, that makes us especially grateful at this time of year. (Reminds me of an episode of Northern Exposure, where a corpse had to be hauled into a tree to survive the winter, safe from wolves, until the spring thaw when a grave could be dug.) Every feeling of gratitude is magnified in this season: I offer gratitude for my family and friends, my home, my abilities (such as they are), and for so many other things spreading out into the wide world—gardens, books, music, classical architecture, Victorian hotels, the fall of Communism, inexpensive red wines, bread machines, organic eggs, thrift shops, the internet, and friends I reach thereby—and here let me stop!
ALSO greetings and thanks to Junibears, Nigel and Connie for your comments, I will offer personal responses later this week--cannot respond from home computer : (