something special in the air in November and December. The light is gauzy
and golden, the breeze cool and crisp, the smells earthy and tangy, and the
ground crunchy with the fallen reminders of a year winding to a close. The
holidays we celebrate in these last two months of the calendar year resonate
most clearly in our memories, of family gatherings, childhood excitement,
and joyous traditions. And even as we’re tempted to retreat indoors to the
hearth during this season’s shortening days, we still are drawn outdoors,
for shopping excursions, sporting events, and wintry walks.
As we’ve done now for over a decade, we herewith share
with our readers in this, our final issue of 2009, some favorite passages
from seasonal works, focusing on holiday memories of the great outdoors.
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.
— “Tree-Shaking Day,” from Memory of a Large
Christmas, by Lillian Smith, 1961.
Opening the gate, we tread briskly along the lone country
road, crunching the dry and crisped snow under our feet, or aroused by the
sharp, clear creak of the wood sled, just starting for the distant market,
from the early farmer’s door, where it has lain the summer long, dreaming
amid the chips and stubble; while far through the drifts and powdered
windows we see the farmer’s early candle, like a paled star, emitting a
lonely beam, as if some severe virtue were at its matins there. And one by
one the smokes begin to ascend from the chimneys amid the trees and snows.
— “A Winter Walk,” by Henry David Thoreau, 1843.
Just before Christmas a green lacy vine called running
cedar appeared in the woods around Freetown (Virginia) and we would gather
yards and yards of it. We draped everything in the house with it: windows,
doors, even the large gilded frames that held the pictures of each of my
aunts and uncles. We picked the prickly branches of a giant holly tree —the
largest holly I’ve ever seen — which grew on the top of a nearby hill, and
we cut armloads of pine boughs and juniper. My mother always gave the
fireplace and hearth a fresh whitewashing the day before Christmas, and
washed, starched and ironed the white lace curtains. On Christmas Eve my
father would set up the tree in one corner of the room and we would decorate
it with pink, white and blue strings of popcorn that we had popped, dipped
in colored sugar water, and carefully threaded. Small white candles nestled
on tufts of cotton were the last decorations to be placed on the tree.
— “Joy in Freetown,” from The Taste of Country
Cooking, by Edna Lewis, 1976.
Peter ran to the window and pushed
the curtain aside to watch them. Arm in arm they went over the path, two
black figures on the white field of snow, with stars looking down on them
and the dark lines of the hills rimming them in a known world. Now they were
running a little, then they stopped as if to catch their breath and Peter
saw his mother toss her head quickly, then his father threw back his head
and laughed. What a wonderful time Christmas Eve was, Peter thought, the
world so still and everyone in it so happy.
For so many days of the year his father was
serious and full of care and his mother’s thoughts seemed far ahead of her
as if she were thinking of all the things she had to do ...
— “Once in the Year,” by Elizabeth Yates, from A
Newbery Christmas (compilation selected by Greenberg and Waugh), 1991.
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
— “The Distant Music of the Hounds,” from The Second
Tree from the Corner, by E. B. White, 1949.