Friday, December 10, 2010

this day in December

A Christmas tree was a magical thing, when I was growing up.  We cut our own, not at a lot or a farm but on the land where we lived, and the "ritual"--not some obligatory bullshit or overly done-up reverence or laborious nonsense--of bringing it into the house was one which--though always a little late, a bit complicated and perhaps just a tad contentious--was always one of significance, of joy and anticipation, the culmination and recognition of the passage of another year, from darkness to light...We spent hours, as a family, listening to music--Tchaikovsky, maybe, or Handel or various others...jazz musicians or just plain old folks on vinyl, not only of the season--and carefully unpacking each ornament, jointly considering its best placement and most beautiful attributes, so as best to fill each void, or catch the light, or be most pleasing to the eye and heart. 

The collection of ornaments was rare, artful, breakable. There were many in glass, figures and creatures and bubbles of all sizes, sculptures of metal and clay and wood.  This might seem less than notable, these days, but in the late 70's and until much later--perhaps not until well into the 90's, with the general acceptance of consumerism as a way of life--such things were not so commonplace, and even yet I have rarely glimpsed so many lovely, thoughtful graces on a single tree.  We had gnomes with pipes and mates and children, a blown-glass dragon (or was it really a chicken?), wild reindeer and wonderful birds...bulbs which had rounded out decades...trumpets and french horns and trombones and flutes, drums, disco balls...jesters and wizards and pickles and starbursts...angels (though not of the white-winged variety) and saints (though not of the biblical sort).  There were no Precious Moments but the Imaginary Ones.  Lights of all colors, reflected in every direction, casting rainbowed shadow branches onto the ceiling...things heavy, things hidden, things coming alive among the flashes of light, the falling needles, the fragrant sap...  Each year, everyone received a new decoration to add to the tree.  In this way, we composed our space inside a winter's night.

Outside, stars pierced the sky, making of it a sieve through which we might receive the finer parts of the light beyond.  The slivered, silvered moon danced a million smiling dances with each snowflake, while the coyotes caroled their way along the fence, out past the Oak Grove.  In the distance, the Big Hill rose in pregnant silence against the horizon, to carry on an unspoken dialogue with the wrinkled eaves of the old barn roof.  Close by, in the still crisp air under the pole light, the ginalla whispered gently to the weeping willow, remembering a distant Spring...Paw prints in the snow and puppies at the window reminded us to open the door, return to the fire...

A night went by, and morning came.  Presents were something; we had lots some years, and good ones...but the Presence--and let's be clear on this: I mean not of Christ but of Love, itself--was all that shaped the day.  Sweet music, nourishing food, a challenging puzzle perhaps, something new to build, an invigorating ski trek over fields and through woods to the beaver dam and back....these are my memories of this time of year, when gravity draws us toward our dark Solstice and with some ancient strength hurls us past it into the open arms of the next bright season. I'm thinking of this tonight, partly in giddy anticipation of the snows (okay already: blizzard!!!) tomorrow, and also with gratitude for the birth and life of my mother, and all that she has known, and learned to share, and taught us all.  It's her birthday tomorrow.  Send her some love.

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