column is being written in late September, so the air is abuzz and the
airwaves are saturated with the crowing and cawing of office-seekers and
political pundits. Like hungry birds at a freshly filled feeder, they gather
and grab, sing and celebrate. And fly on when the suet and the seeds are
gobbled and gone.
Thankfully, the end of the political season brings the
beginning of another season: the fall and winter holidays and religious
celebrations. It’s a season centered on faith, enjoyed with family and
friends at the shared table. A table blanketed with food that feeds the
body, of course, but has a more lasting power as it feeds a deeper need,
enriching the mind’s store of memories.
Memories of walks, propelled by the gravitational pull of
holiday excitement, toward a familiar old house, now strange and wondrous,
its daytime profile now etched in black, a moon floating above it like
milkweed floss, its gauzy bright light dimming the sparkling stars sprinkled
across the heavens.
Memories of doors opening wide,
spilling into the chilly night air a generous cloud of wonderful smells and
welcoming voices. Memories of abundant feasts not seen in months but
remembered for years. And memories of wood fires hissing, then crackling,
then fading into embers, their molten glow transforming everyday furniture
into a magical shadow-world of dancing darkness.
The political season is much like autumn, with a riot of
color and a parade of leaf-peepers, anxious to watch the showy display. But
always, the color fades, and the leaves fall.
And left to take center stage are the evergreens, there
all along, beautiful in their simplicity, timeless in their power. Just like
faith, and family, and friends. And memories of seasonal gatherings.
To celebrate these evergreen values, we herewith share
with our readers a year-end holiday tradition that dates back more than a
decade, as we publish some of our favorite passages from literary works of
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.
— Lillian Smith, “Tree-Shaking Day,” from
Memory of a Large Christmas, 1961-’62.
They seem tentative and awkward at first, then in a
hastening host a whole brief army falls, white militia paratrooping out of
the close sky over various textures, making them one. Snow is white and
gray, part and whole, infinitely various yet infinitely repetitious, soft
and hard, frozen and melting, a creaking underfoot and a soundlessness. But
first of all it is the reversion of many into one. It is substance, almost
the idea of substance, that turns grass, driveway, hayfield, old garden, log
pile, Saab, watering trough, collapsed barn, and stonewall into the one
— Donald Hall, “Winter,” from
Seasons at Eagle Pond, 1987.
Finally we would go back into the warmth of the house
for breakfast. There would be eggs and sausages and plates of hot biscuits
with my mother’s best preserves, and pan-fried oysters which would taste so
sweet, crispy, and delicious. The familiar smell of hot coffee and cocoa
mixed with the special aroma of bourbon, which was part of every holiday
breakfast. We were allowed to smell, but never to taste this special drink
of the menfolk.
— Edna Lewis, “Joy in Freetown,” from
The Taste of Country Cooking, 1976.
I need a key. Many keys. I need to enter the secret
rooms of winter with the same curious urgency with which I enter dreams.
— Diana Kappel-Smith, Wintering,
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
— E. B. White, “The Distant Music of the
Hounds,” from The Second Tree from the Corner,