Is there — indeed, could there be — a more evocative time of year
than the Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s window, through which float or fly
sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches that bring back and add to our
collective exhilaration at the overwhelming wonder of it all? More than any
other, this is the season when we are most closely connected to our
childhood sense of fresh awe, of excitement, of possibility … no matter
how faint or fragile or fleeting that gossamer thread may be.
As has become our custom, during this year-end issue we’d like to share
with your family some of our favorite passages from stories and essays that
speak to our senses during this sacred, special time.
Sights of the Season . . .
If you want to have a Christmas
like the one we had on Paradise Farm when I was a boy, you will have to
hunt up a salt-water farm on the Maine coast, with bays on both sides of
it, and a road that goes around all sorts of bays, up over Misery Hill and
down, and through the fir trees so close together that they brush you and
your horse on both cheeks … You must have a clear December night, with
blue Maine stars snapping like sapphires with the cold, and the big moon
flooding full … and lighting up the snowy spruce boughs like crushed
“Christmas in Maine,” 1935.
The Sounds of the
Season . . .
Christmas began when pecans
started falling. The early November rains loosened the nuts from their
outer shells and sent them plopping like machine gun bullets on the roof
of the veranda. In the night, you’d listen and you’d know IT would
soon be here … And so you lay there, listening to the drip drip of rain
and plop plop of nuts, feeling something good is going to happen,
something good and it won’t be long now.
Smith, “Tree-Shaking Day,”
from Memory of a Large Christmas, 1961.
The Smells of the
Season . . .
Around Christmastime the kitchens
of Freetown, Virginia, would grow fragrant with the baking of cakes, fruit
puddings, cookies, and candy. Exchanging gifts was not a custom at that
time, but we did look forward to hanging our stockings from the mantel and
finding them filled on Christmas morning with tasty “imported” nuts
from Lahore’s, our favorite hard candies with the cinnamon-flavored red
eye, and oranges whose special Christmas aroma reached us at the top of
“Joy in Freetown,”
from The Taste of Country Cooking, 1976.
The black stove, stoked with coal
and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin
round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger
spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the
house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our
work is done. Thirty-one (fruit)cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on
window sills and shelves.
“A Christmas Memory,”
from Selected Writings of Truman Capote, 1956.
The Spirit of the
Season . . .
So this day and this century
proceed toward the absolutes of convenience, of complexity, and of speed,
only occasionally holding up the little trumpet (as at Christmastime) to
be reminded of the simplicities, and to hear the distant music of the
hound. Man’s inventions, directed always onward and upward, have an odd
way of leading back to man himself, as a rabbit track in snow leads
eventually to the rabbit. It is one of his more endearing qualities that
man should think his tracks lead outward, toward something else, instead
of back around the hill to where he has already been; and it is one of his
persistent ambitions to leave earth entirely and travel by rocket into
space, beyond the pull of gravity, and perhaps try another planet, as a
pleasant change. He knows that the atomic age is capable of delivering a
new package of energy; what he doesn’t know is whether it will prove to
be a blessing. This week, many will be reminded that no explosion of atoms
generates so hopeful a light as the reflection of a star, seen
appreciatively in a pasture pond. It is there we perceive Christmas —
and the sheep quiet, and the world waiting.
“The Distant Music of the Hounds,”
from The Second Tree from the Corner, 1949.