A Most Wonderful Season

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone

Thoughts of November and December distill in the mind the most magical moments of the human journey, with childhood memories of holiday celebrations and family gatherings shaping plans and coloring hopes for the calendar year’s final days. Despite the gaudy, goofy sheen glopped onto this season by the forces of commercial excess, our various religious traditions survive. Their power arises not from the timely here and now of pop culture, but from the timeless verities: faith, family and friendship, shared meals and shared prayers, and celebratory toasts to the year past and to better days ahead.

In this final issue of 2010, as has been our custom for many years, we herewith share with our readers some passages from a few favorite works of this most wonderful season.

It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: “It’s fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.”

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

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.

 — “Tree-Shaking Day,” from Memory of a Large Christmas, by Lillian Smith, 1961.

But while the earth has slumbered, all the air has been alive with feathery flakes descending, as if some northern Ceres reigned, showering her silvery grain over all the fields. We sleep, and at length awake to the still reality of a winter morning. The snow lies warm as cotton or down upon the window sill; the broadened sash and frosted panes admit a dim and private light, which enhances the snug cheer within.

 — “A Winter Walk,” by Henry David Thoreau, 1843.

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 Distant Music of the Hounds,” from The Second Tree from the Corner, by E.B. White, 1949.

Mrs. Baxter was a traditionalist as well as something of an artist. Each year she trimmed the biggest tree that would fit into the living room with such loving and painstaking care that it put all other trees to shame. No one was allowed to see it until the evening before Christmas, when the whole family lined up outside the living room in prescribed order, Mrs. Baxter first, then the smallest child and finally Mr. Baxter bringing up the rear like a benevolent shepherd.

 Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter, by Edward Streeter, 1956.

“Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: “Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”

The kind hand trembled. “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”

In his agony, he caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit, stronger yet, repulsed him. Holding up his hands in one last prayer to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.

 A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, 1843.


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