As 2008 approaches its close, most of us
will likely consider it a red-letter year only for stomach-wrenching
financial volatility and clamorous political theater. If the world seems a
bit too much this year, well, then perhaps that’s just an apt reminder for
all of us to focus on the really important things: family, friends, faith,
and good health.
And there’s no better time to do that
than in the last two months of the calendar year. As leafy trees expose bare
limbs, we’re able to ponder the longer, clearer view. As temperatures
drop, we’re able to come inside to the hearth, to read, to reflect, to
share meals and memories with family and friends, and sometimes simply to
indulge in a long winter’s nap. ’Tis the season for a cluster of sacred
days, days to celebrate the wondrous, to gaze in wonder at the celebrations,
and to give thanks for loved ones, who draw with us closer to the hearth.
So, as has been our custom now for many
years, we’d like to share with you in this final issue of 2008 some of our
favorite passages of the season.
Imagine a morning in late November. A
coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of
a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main
feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two
rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its
woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is
wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico
dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long
youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is
remarkable — not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun
and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are
sherry-colored and timid.“Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the
windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”
— Truman Capote, “A Christmas Memory,” from
Selected Writings of Truman Capote, 1956.
If there’s one thing we’d really
like from Christmas, I think, it’s a little of that “season of peace”
that the greeting card writers are always promising. It’s one of the
reasons “Silent Night” is the all-time favorite carol. There’s a
moment when we sing it each year at the end of the Christmas Eve service,
with the lights out and everyone holding a candle that frames their face
with soft light, and that marks for me the absolute height of Christmas.
When I was a boy, I never wanted to let
go of that moment. I can remember walking my girlfriend home, and then
walking two or three miles back to my house, bundled against the cold,
humming carols in the early morning stillness.
— Bill McKibben, Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case
for a More Joyful Christmas, 1998.
With a dramatic sweep of her arm, the
screen would be pushed aside and they would parade into the darkened living
room where, at one end, the tree glowed with color, lighting the familiar
walls with an unreal and transient radiance…They entered the living room,
stood for a moment silently, looking, each seeing in his own way what the
crowd had seen when they looked at the great tree at Rockefeller Center,
each sensing vaguely that he had stepped into a magic circle from which the
harshness of life had been debarred and only its warmth and tenderness
— Edward Streeter, Merry Christmas, Mr.
To perceive Christmas through its wrapping becomes more difficult with every
year. There was a little device we noticed in one of the sporting-goods
stores — a trumpet that hunters hold to their ears so that they can hear
the distant music of the hounds. Something of the sort is needed now to hear
the incredibly distant sound of Christmas in these times, through the dark,
material woods that surround it ... The miracle of Christmas is that, like
the distant and very musical voice of the hound, it penetrates finally and
becomes heard in the heart — over so many years, through so many cheap
curtain-raisers. It is not destroyed even by all the arts and craftiness of
the destroyers, having an essential simplicity that is everlasting and
triumphant, at the end of confusion.
— E. B. White, “The Distant Music of
the Hounds,” from The Second Tree From the Corner,