"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Ten Days to Christmas: Peace

From “A Christmas Carol” (attributed to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) in Our Holidays in Poetry by Mildred P. Harrington:

Then peace was spread throughout the land;
The lion fed beside the lamb;
     And with the kid,
     To pastures led,
The spotted leopard fed
     In peace, in peace
     The calf and bear,
The wolf and lamb reposed together there.

As shepherds watched their flocks by night,
An angel brighter than the sun
     Appeared in air,
     And gently said,
“Fear not, be not afraid,
     Behold, behold,
     Beneath your eyes,
Earth has become a smiling Paradise.”

Back by popular demand (!!), here is the first post in 2023’s “Ten Days to Christmas” series, a series that I started a few years ago — originally beginning two days too late to name it after the more well-known and traditional moniker “Twelve Days of Christmas.” I started it in 2019, as a way of learning more about photography, trying new setups and experiments as each year’s project progressed. For those unfamiliar (or those feeling nostalgic), here are links to posts with all the photos in the previous years’ series:

Christmas 2022
Christmas 2021
Christmas 2020
Christmas 2019

Christmas baubles, glittery whatnots, and holiday lights are great subjects for photography experiments, fun and suitably challenging. You can learn a lot about lighting, depth of field, color, and exposure; and — as you can see in the second trio of photographs below — sometimes you can just unfocus the camera and work with whatever you get!

Each year I add one or two items to my photography gear to help with this project. In 2020, for example, I bought an inexpensive boom to hold foil wrapping paper as backgrounds; and the next year, I bought studio lights and stands to hike up my glitter game. You can seem them both in use below, in a photo I took showing the process of taking photos, last year.

The completed images from this setup are at Six Days to Christmas: Angels and Nutcrackers and Wintry Blues — where the confusing mix of lights and cords and paper became something different entirely.

I’ve also been using star filters (sometimes called starburst or crosscut filters) occasionally, though there use is somewhat more limited than I had expected since lights only “burst” pleasantly when they’re in focus. And this year I acquired a Plamp — a rather clever gadget that you can use to suspend things in the air in front of Christmas trees, which I used in several of the photos below to give the impression (maybe) that the doves and angels are floating around on their own.

I have an assistant, also, one who follows me from room to room, picks up whatever I drop, and steps aside when I swear out loud about things that looked so much better in my head (as things often do!) than when I set them up and took the photos. Here he is earlier today, taking a break in his safe spot, right after I knocked over a light stand….

This year, I made a commitment to starting the project early — since I had most of my Christmas decorating done shortly after Thanksgiving — so that I wasn’t scrambling around every day for ten days taking photos, post-processing them, finding poems and quotes, and creating blog posts. Here’s how that worked out:

I took these photos today, found the poem today, and wrote this post today. So much for starting early….

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Thanks for taking a look!

Merry Christmas!

From “Christmas Trees” in Christmas: A Short History from Solstice to Santa by Andy Thomas:

“A good candidate for the first proper Christmas tree can be found in a German legend from the 1500s. A popular tale credits the reformer Martin Luther with the inspiration. Walking through frosty woods on Christmas Eve, he was so struck with the starlight glittering on icicle-hung tree branches that he brought one home to his family. He is also said to have been the first to light up a tree; inspired by the bright stars in the sky, he attached candles to the branches to remind them all of the heavens from where Jesus came. Even now, many trees are topped with a star or an angel (or a fairy for the more secular), making a clear link to the Nativity story….

“By the 1920s, trees were installed in most homes of many countries, candles turned to electric lights, and today Christmas just would not seem right without a tree somewhere. Glistening with enchanting colors, there is something truly transcendent about a well-dressed Christmas tree, pulling us into a different state of mind — out of darkness and into light.”

From “Christmas Day and Everyday” by George MacDonald in The Ultimate Christmas Collection:

Star high
Baby low:
‘Twixt the two
Wise men go;
Find the baby,
Grasp the star
Heirs of all things
Near and far!

From “Christmas Day” in Old Christmas by Washington Irving:

“The window of my chamber looked out upon what in summer would have been a beautiful landscape. There was a sloping lawn, a fine stream winding at the foot of it, and a tract of park beyond, with noble clumps of trees, and herds of deer. At a distance was a neat hamlet, with the smoke from the cottage chimneys hanging over it; and a church with its dark spire in strong relief against the clear cold sky….

“The house was surrounded with evergreens, according to the English custom, which would have given almost an appearance of summer; but the morning was extremely frosty; the light vapour of the preceding evening had been precipitated by the cold, and covered all the trees and every blade of grass with its fine crystallisations. The rays of a bright morning sun had a dazzling effect among the glittering foliage.”

Below I’ve accumulated all my photo galleries from this year’s “Days to Christmas” series. Click the links above each gallery if you would like to see the original posts and the quotations I selected to go with them. 

Thanks for reading, and taking a look … and:

Merry Christmas!!!

Ten Days to Christmas: Peace! and Birds! and Beasts!

Nine Days to Christmas: Silver and Gold

Eight Days to Christmas: Red and Green

Seven Days to Christmas: When Nature Does the Decorating

Six Days to Christmas: Angels and Nutcrackers and Wintry Blues

Five Days to Christmas: Yule Frogs!

Four Days to Christmas: Winter Solstice/Candle Night

Three Days to Christmas: Toys and Games

Two Days to Christmas: Santa Claus Rhapsody

One Day to Christmas: Happy Christmas Eve!

One Day to Christmas: Happy Christmas Eve!

From A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd:

“From the kitchen intoxicating smells were beginning to fill the house. Every year my mother baked two pumpkin pies, spicy and immobilizingly rich. Up through the hot-air registers echoed the boom and bellow of my father fighting The Furnace….

“I was locked in my bedroom in a fever of excitement. Before me on the bed were sheets of green and yellow paper, balls of colored string, and cellophane envelopes of stickers showing sleighing scenes, wreaths, and angels blowing trumpets. The zeppelin was already lumpily done — it had taken me forty-five minutes — and now I struggled with the big one, the magnificent gleaming gold and pearl perfume atomizer, knowing full well that I was wrapping what would undoubtedly become a treasured family heirloom. I checked the lock on the door, and for double safety hollered:


“I turned back to my labors until finally there they were—my masterworks of creative giving piled in a neat pyramid on the quilt. My brother was locked in the bathroom, wrapping the fly swatter he had bought for the Old Man.

“Our family always had its Christmas on Christmas Eve. Other less fortunate people, I had heard, opened their presents in the chill clammy light of dawn. Far more civilized, our Santa Claus recognized that barbaric practice for what it was. Around midnight great heaps of tissuey, crinkly, sparkly, enigmatic packages appeared among the lower branches of the tree and half hidden among the folds of the white bed-sheet that looked in the soft light like some magic snowbank.”

From “Noel: Christmas Eve 1913” by Robert Bridges in A Vintage Christmas: A Collection of Classic Stories and Poems:

A frosty Christmas Eve
   when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone
   where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village
   in the water’d valley
Distant music reach’d me
   peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds
   ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
As the dark vault above
   with stars was spangled o’er.
Then sped my thoughts to keep
   that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching
   by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields
   and marveling could not tell
Whether it were angels
   or the bright stars singing.

Two Days to Christmas: Santa Claus Rhapsody

From A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd:

“‘Did you tell Santa what you wanted?’ the Old Man asked.
“‘Did he ask you if you had been a good boy?’
“‘Ha! Don’t worry. He knows anyway. I’ll bet he knows about the basement window. Don’t worry. He knows.’

“Maybe that was it! My mind reeled with the realization that maybe Santa did know how rotten I had been….There had been for generations on Cleveland Street a theory that if you were not ‘a good boy’ you would reap your just desserts under the Christmas tree. This idea had been largely discounted by the more confirmed evildoers in the neighborhood, but now I could not escape the distinct possibility that there was something to it….

“Usually for a full month or so before the big day most kids walked the straight and narrow, but I had made a drastic slip from the paths of righteousness by knocking out a basement window with a sled runner and then compounding the idiocy by denying it when all the evidence was incontrovertible. This caused an uproar which had finally resulted in my getting my mouth washed out with Lux and a drastic curtailment of allowance to pay for the glass. I could see that either my father or Santa, or perhaps both, were not content to let bygones be bygones. Were they in league with each other? Or was Santa actually a mother in disguise?”

From “Christmas Every Day” by William Dean Howells in A Vintage Christmas: A Collection of Classic Stories and Poems:

“She had a splendid Christmas. She went to bed early, so as to let Santa Claus have a chance at the stockings, and in the morning she was up the first of anybody and went and felt them, and found hers all lumpy with packages of candy, and oranges and grapes, and pocket-books and rubber balls and all kinds of small presents, and her big brother’s with nothing but the tongs in them, and her young lady sister’s with a new silk umbrella, and her papa’s and mamma’s with potatoes and pieces of coal wrapped up in tissue paper, just as they always had every Christmas….

“Then she waited around till the rest of the family were up, and she was the first to burst into the library, when the doors were opened, and look at the large presents laid out on the library-table — books, and portfolios, and boxes of stationery, and breast-pins, and dolls, and little stoves, and dozens of handkerchiefs, and ink-stands, and skates, and snow-shovels, and photograph-frames, and little easels, and boxes of water-colors, and Turkish paste, and nougat, and candied cherries, and dolls’ houses, and waterproofs, — and the big Christmas-tree, lighted and standing in a waste-basket in the middle.”

From Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen:

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landside,
No escape from reality
Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see….

Three Days to Christmas: Toys and Games

From Old Christmas by Washington Irving:

“The family meeting was warm and affectionate; as the evening was far advanced, the Squire would not permit us to change our travelling dresses, but ushered us at once to the company, which was assembled in a large old-fashioned hall. It was composed of different branches of a numerous family connection, where there were the usual proportion of old uncles and aunts, comfortably married dames, superannuated spinsters, blooming country cousins, half-fledged striplings, and bright-eyed boarding-school hoydens.

“They were variously occupied; some at a round game of cards; others conversing around the fireplace; at one end of the hall was a group of the young folks, some nearly grown up, others of a more tender and budding age, fully engrossed by a merry game; and a profusion of wooden horses, penny trumpets, and tattered dolls, about the floor, showed traces of a troop of little fairy beings, who having frolicked through a happy day, had been carried off to slumber through a peaceful night.”

From “Reindeer Games” in The Old Magic of Christmas by Linda Raedisch:

“We know that Santa Claus took his name, if not his character, from the fourth-century St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. His headquarters, therefore, really ought to be in Turkey, perhaps among the outbuildings of some crumbling mountain monastery….

“There, elves bearded and hooded like orthodox monks would whittle away by the light of the beeswax candles, all the while conversing quietly in New Testament Greek. Under the smudged gaze of the icons, they would keep themselves busy boxing up batches of Turkish delight to distribute to the world’s children. Or, Santa might have placed his enterprise further to the east, amid the snows of Mount Ararat, where the wrecked stalls of Noah’s ark would be put to good use again as workshops and warehouses….

“What better setting for the elves as they carve all those toy animals?”

From Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, edited by Donald J. Gray:

“For some minutes Alice stood without speaking, looking out in all directions over the country — and a most curious country it was. There were a number of tiny little brooks running straight across it from side to side, and the ground between was divided up into squares by a number of little green hedges, that reached from brook to brook.

“‘I declare it’s marked out just like a large chessboard!’ Alice said at last. ‘There ought to be some men moving about somewhere and so there are!’ she added in a tone of delight, and her heart began to beat quick with excitement as she went on. ‘It’s a great huge game of Chess that’s being played all over the world — if this is the world at all, you know. Oh, what fun it is! How I wish I was one of them! I wouldn’t mind being a Pawn, if only I might join — though of course I should like to be a Queen, best.’”