Of the Holly and the Holy

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

In a year of crisis and queasiness, from continuing conflict abroad, to fuel prices reaching new heights, to killer hurricanes, to budget deficits and record national debt, to…well, enough of that. The final two months of each calendar year offer us a respite from such ongoing problems, from the strife and trauma that seem to characterize the human journey.

With trees bare, we ponder the longer, clearer view. With temperatures cold, we come inside to the hearth, to read, to reflect, to share meals and memories with family and friends, sometimes simply to indulge in a long winter’s nap. It’s the season for a cluster of holy days, days to celebrate the sacred, to marvel at the unseen, to give thanks for the seen, to assess our standing in the universe at the end of another circle around the sun.

As has been our custom now for many years, we share in this final issue of 2005 some of our favorite passages from books about this most special, most joyous and joyful, most holy, most festive time of the year. Here’s to a blessed, bountiful, peaceful holiday season to your family from all of us at Cooperative Living, your electric cooperative magazine.

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.

The snow covers the fields and woods as my quilts covered me. The farm pond is as sealed as if someone had poured a dozen cement trucks full of liquid paraffin over it all. What energies flow there of heat or light are invisible to me, I am shut out, insensible to them, left on the surface here. Soil and water are clamped, shuttered, barred, still. No wonder we can think that everything alive out there is sleeping, rolled immobile in clean white, like comatose patients in sterile, soft beds. Rubbish! NO! Why do I persist in thinking that behind a closed door lies nothing at all? Well, simply because I do not yet know what is there. 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, 1984.

Last year we had a twenty-three pound turkey, served on a white cloth, with all the fixings. Twenty people sat down at the table. It was quite a Thanksgiving. At the end of the meal Rufus said, “That was a good dinner; but, Ma, remember that Thanksgiving when we forgot what day it was? Remember seeing the deer and eating the beans over at B Pond? Gosh.” — he sighed with the deep nostalgia of eight for lost youth — “That was the best Thanksgiving I ever had.” I opened my mouth to say something biting about the hours I’d spent preparing a meal that ranked a poor second to a darned old can of store beans, but I closed it again. After all, he was right. That day we’d walked in beauty together. We’d shared work in mutual respect. We’d come home safe through danger to our own roof and our own fire. We’d been truly thankful.

— Louise Dickinson Rich, Happy the Land, 1946.

I loved the way the greens looked set off by the white hearth and walls and the stiff white curtains which they draped. In the evenings the soft orange glow from the fire and from the candlelight and the fragrance of the cedar and juniper mingling with the smell of chestnuts roasting always made me wish that Christmas week would last until spring, though I suspected that my mother did not share my wish.

— Edna Lewis, “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 cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on window sills and shelves.

-- Truman Capote, “A Christmas Memory,” from Selected Writings of Truman Capote, 1956.

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, 1949.


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