Although this could very well be a picture of me finding a new treasure at a favorite nursery, it's actually an illustration by David Catrow for a children's book called Plantzilla.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Packing Up and Moving On

Putting Christmas in boxes always makes me a little sad.

If you've read my blog for long, you know I'm one of those people who revel in the festivals of autumn and winter from Halloween through New Year's Day.   Sort of a natural treatment for seasonal affect disorder which, knock on wood, doesn't seem to be a problem for me.   The business and fun distracts from the shortening daylight hours as decorations in warm tones are added layer upon layer.  Yellow warms to orange giving way to riotous warm reds that burst into golden flames in the form of tiny lights bedecking evergreens.  Christmas is a golden time, full of warmth and love, candle light, flames in the fireplace (use your imagination) all reflected in the tinsel and glitter.  Imaginary beings of all sorts dance about, making toys, riding sleighs, doing whatever it is that trolls and gnomes do.  The magic can bring out the child in even the hardest hearts.  Even wars themselves have stopped, if ever so briefly.  Linus's voice reciting Luke 8 brings a tear every time!

Now we are well into January, a silver time of year in my mind.  It's beautiful, frosty, and cold.  The light increases and we look forward to spring and look at the garden for signs of rebirth.  The light is reborn, the fire-eating dragon is now chasing the giant fireball higher and higher into the sky.  If we've made new years resolutions, they're either well underway or broken, and the Christmas bills await payment.  The spell of holding the light inside is gone and reality has set in.

Ann Weems, in her poem "Boxed" says, in part:

"I must admit to a certain guilt
   about stuffing the Holy Family into a box
     in the aftermath of Christmas.
It's frankly a time of personal triumph when,
   each Advent's eve, I free them (and the others)
     from a year's imprisonment
       boxed in the dark of our basement..."

...And this year, when it's time to pack the figures away,
       we'll be more careful that the Peace and Goodwill
            are not also boxed for another year!"

I think about the interesting story of a birth and heavenly beings proclaiming peace and goodwill. Hearing of violence, hatred and misunderstanding around the world and around the corner, I wonder where the peace and goodwill went?  I'm reminded that just a few verses after the birth narrative comes the story of what happened next in the lives of the family; fleeing to Egypt and Herod's murdering the innocent children in Bethlehem to remain in power.  (It was a small town so not that many children but we like hyperbole in our legends, not necessarily fact.)

Another Ann Weems for you:

  "The Refugees"

"Into the wild and painful  cold of the starless winter night
       came the refugees,
   slowly making their way to the border.
The man, stooped from age or anxiety,
   hurried his small family through the wind.
Bearded and dark, his skin rough and cracked from the cold,
   his frame looming large in spite of the slumped shoulders;
He looked like a man who could take care of whatever
       came at them
   from the dark.
Unless, of course, there were too many of them.
One man he could handel...two, even...,
       but a border patrol...
   they wouldn't have a chance.
His eyes, black and alert,
   darted from side to side, then over his shoulder,
       then back again forwerd.
Had they been seen?
Had they been heard?
Every rustle of wind, every sigh from the child,
   sent terror through his chest.
Was this the way?
Even the stars had been unkind-
   had hidden themselves in the ink of night
       so that the man could not read their way.
Only the wind . . . was it enough?
Only the wind and his innate sense of direction. . . . .
What kind of a cruel judgment would that be,
   to wander in circles through the night?
Or to safely make their way to the border
   only to find the authorities waiting for them?
He glanced at the young woman, his bride.
No more than a child herself,
   she nuzzled their newborn, kissing his neck.
She looked up, caught his eye, and smiled.
Oh, how the homelessness had taken its toll on her!
Her eyes were red, her young face lined,
   her lovely hair matted from inattention,
       her clothes stained from milk and baby,
         her hands chapped from the raw wind of winter.
She'd hardly had time to recover from childbirth
   when word had come that they were hunted,
       and they fled with only a little bread,
          the remaining wind,
       and a very small portion of cheese.
Suddenly, the child began to make small noises.
The man drew his breath in sharply;
   the woman quietly put the child to breast.
Fear . . . long dread-filled moments. . . .
Huddled, the family stood still in the long silence.
At last the man breathed deeply again,
   reassured they had not been hears.
And into the night continued
   Mary and Joseph and the Babe."

So into the boxes they go, the decorations, the creches, the spicy fragrances and golden candlelight.

And out comes silver and cold reality.


  1. Here in St. Louis I love January because it's "real" winter. Colder yes, but better chance for snow and ice, unlike damp and cold December. I'm one of those people who perk up a bit once the Holidays have passed. Nice post!

    1. Looks like we won't be getting any snow this year. January here is just a continuation of cold and damp December usually. Sometimes we get an arctic blast but not so much this year. February can go either way. The lengthening of days is really helps when the sky isn't dark with clouds.

  2. Oh, Peter, what a wonderful post ... especially like the transition from gold to silver ... the display of silver and candles on the table. Inspiring. I am going to do that. As usual, your words have made me think. Candlemas is coming with all its traditions. This year I'll be ready.

    1. I usually haven't done a lot for Candlemas except with the kids at school & groundhog day. It is fun to read about the various historical and cultural celebrations of the midpoint between the solstice and equinox. With the decline of fraternal organizations and church attendance, I think people crave ritual in some form.

  3. That second poem made me cry. Maybe I'd be less of a Grinch at Christmas if I brought out my decorations. Sort of like fake it till you make it? It's so much work for just the two of us.

    1. It is a lot of work and I didn't decorate for years. Leaving the stuff untouched for so long really helped me enjoy pulling it all out again. Linda Reeder influenced me when she talked about her own decorating, baking, etc. and said that she does it just for the joy of it. If it's not rewarding in some way, why do it? It's sort of like gardening only inside when there's not a lot that can be done outside.

  4. The table settings you create are divine. You must be extremely organized in your packing and storage to find all these just as you need them for the right occasion.

    1. Thanks Chava. My niece, Alison, who knows me very well emailed this response to your comment: "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!" You see, I'm just a pack rat with a fairly good memory about where I stashed stuff. Fortunately, there's space for lots of junque. When an idea pops into my head, I go around and gather things that might work together. Some of the stuff on the silver table turned up when I cleaned out a coat closet in the entryway of our house.

  5. Peter ... what an amazing thoughtful post ! ... I am not the religious type but even the basic story is a moving one and you arranged it so artfully within your post. Your decorations are so beautiful .. even now with the silver it brightens your home so warmly still.
    Joy : )

    1. I was raised with these stories so they have emotional hooks for me but I also enjoy learning about and incorporating other traditions/celebrations to mark the changing of seasons.

  6. You could make sentimentalists of us all!

    1. It's good to be a realist but it's enjoyable to revel (wallow?) in sweet sentiment sometimes.

  7. So much here - such poetry, so many images, so much to comtemplate. Beautiful.
    Is rain silver?

    1. I've thought of late winter and early spring rain as that color since a coworker years ago called that the silver time of year. We were talking about how the sun peeks through the clouds, turning wet roads into blinding reflective rivers of silver.

  8. Is the second Ann Weems poem recent? Wouldn't it be nice if our politicians read more poetry and fewer publicist talking points?

    1. The Weems poetry I've quoted a bit this winter comes from her collection, "Kneeling in Bethlehem" c. 1980. I usually pull this out and read the poems each holiday season along with "Holidays on Ice" by David Sedaris. Oh my gosh, politics and politicians have become such a strange reality T.V./game show/divisive circus in the last forty or so years.

  9. That's a beautiful post--the thoughts are as glowing as the gold and glass.

  10. Oh, Peter, it's a little sad, I agree. I liked the words of this poem:Peace and Goodwill are not also boxed for another year. It must be!
    Have a nice weekend!

  11. Very nice post. Your nativity set is beautiful.


Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I love to hear your thoughts.