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

Two Days to Christmas: Toys on Parade

From “For the Children or the Grown-Ups?” (author unknown) in Christmas Poems, selected by David Stanford Burr:

‘Tis the week before Christmas and every night
     As soon as the children are snuggled up tight
And have sleepily murmured their wishes and prayers,
     Such fun as goes on in the parlour downstairs!
For Father, Big Brother, and Grandfather too,
     Start in with great vigour their youth to renew.
The grown-ups are having great fun — all is well;
     And they play till it’s long past their hour for bed.

They try to solve puzzles and each one enjoys
     The magical thrill of mechanical toys,
Even Mother must play with a doll that can talk,
     And if you assist it, it’s able to walk.
It’s really no matter if paint may be scratched,
     Or a cogwheel, a nut, or a bolt gets detached;
The grown-ups are having great fun — all is well;
     The children don’t know it, and Santa won’t tell.

From “Sly Santa Claus” by Mrs. C. S. Stone in Christmas Poems, selected by David Stanford Burr:

All the house was asleep,
     And the fire burning low,
When, from far up the chimney,
     Came down a “Ho! ho!”
And a little, round man,
     With a terrible scratching,
Dropped into the room
     With a wink that was catching.
Yes, down he came, bumping,
And thumping, and jumping,
     And picking himself up without sign of a bruise….

“Ho! ho! What is this?
     Why, they all are asleep!
But their stockings are up,
     And my presents will keep!
So, in with the candies,
     The books, and the toys;
All the goodies I have
     For the good girls and boys.
I’ll ram them, and jam them,
And slam them, and cram them;
     All the stockings will hold while the tired
          youngsters snooze.”

All the while his round shoulders
     Kept ducking and ducking;
And his little, fat fingers
     Kept tucking and tucking;
Until every stocking
     Bulged out, on the wall,
As if it were bursting,
     And ready to fall.
And then, all at once,
     With a whisk and a whistle,
And twisting himself
     Like a tough bit of gristle,
He bounced up again,
     Like the down of a thistle,
          And nothing was left but the prints of his shoes.

Three Days to Christmas: The Return of the Light

From The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice by Carolyn McVickar Edwards:

“On March 31, 1880, thousands of people gathered in Wabash, Indiana, the first American municipality to be lit by electric lights. Bands played, guns fired salutes, and then the lights sprang to life. A hush fell over the crowd. Some people groaned and fell to their knees.

“They’d moved from dark to light, and no amount of jaded neon expectations more than a century later, can completely obscure, even for us, the wonder of that vigil. For we, too, whether consciously or subliminally, even in the midst of our wildly wired lives, keep that same vigil each year at the winter solstice.

“Solstice: from the Latin sol stetit meaning sun stood still. For six days in the northern hemisphere’s December, the sun ceases its southerly crawl on the horizon and appears to rise and set in almost the same spot. The ancients watched this quiet drama with drawn breath. Would the sun begin to move again? Would the light grow anew on the great wheel of life? Would life itself continue?

“A few millennia and several hundred generations later, our own deepest questions, though not so literal as those of our ancestors, are nonetheless profound…. At the moment of winter solstice, we stand at the brink of external and internal change….

“Now, at the winter solstice, we ask ourselves: What are the private and shared natures of our inner and outer boundaries? What is our place in the great cycle? What are the actions and restraints required of us? Since time out of mind humans have marked the externally vital crossing from dark to light….

“Though we now light our world with bulbs and take for granted not only the external day but often even our food, we still make of the return of the sun’s light a joyful metaphor for social and personal renewal.”

From The Puffin Book of Christmas Poems by Wes Magee:

Carols drift across the night
Holly gleams by candlelight
Roaring fire, a spooky tale
Ice and snow and wind and hail
Santa seen in High Street store
Television… more and more
Mince pies, turkey, glass of wine
Acting your own pantomime
Socks hung up. It’s Christmas time!

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

“Christmas tree lightbulbs have been around since the 1880s, replacing the somewhat dangerous tradition of clipped-on candles, but as cheaper and better electrical lights became available to the American public, not only did trees but entire houses start to illuminate December nights. The world would soon follow suit — the occasionally garish results of which are seen each year. And yet, within them, the seasonal message of light in the darkness remains, and, done tastefully, these displays can be magical.”

Four Days to Christmas: Winter Solstice (in Silver and Blue)

From “The History of Christmas” by Deborah Hopkinson in A Joyful Christmas by James Ransome:

“Toys and bright tinsel, cookies and carols, sparkling lights and pine-scented trees. All these things make Christmas special. How did the celebration of the birth of one child so long ago come to include so many different traditions?

“People have celebrated the birth of Jesus on December 25 since the fourth century. But the Bible doesn’t tell us the exact date of his birth. Most historians don’t think Jesus was born in December at all, as it would have been too cold then for the shepherds to be keeping watch over their sheep at night.

“But it was natural for the early Christians to choose December 25 as the birthday of the Christ child. The Roman emperor Constantine became a Christian in the year 312. He decided to combine the celebration of the birth of the sun god, which the Romans celebrated on December 25, with the worship of Christ, who also brought light into the world….

“The winter solstice, marking the shortest day of the year, took place just a few days before December 25 and was already a time of celebration in Europe. Families came together at the end of the harvest season to feast, dance, and sing….

“These celebrations at the darkest time of the year brought light and hope that spring would come again soon….”

From “The Winter Heart” by Don Russ in An American Christmas, edited by Jane B. Hill:

When the autumn afternoons have blown away
and, lavender and blue and silver and gray

with sleep, a cold December’s evenings ease
toward night, we wait. When crystallizing trees

and hills have paled to vapor and the dreaming world
could vanish in a final breath of whorled

and frozen white, we hope. If what we know
of love is summer’s coming just to go,

we wait and hope and — trembling — hold a start
of embers in a deeper hollow of the winter heart.

Five Days to Christmas: Tiny Baubles, Glittery Bits

From “The Christmas Tree” by C. Day Lewis in A Single Star: An Anthology of Christmas Poetry    compiled by David Davis:

Put out the lights now!
Look at the Tree, the rough tree dazzled
In oriole plumes of flame,
Tinselled with twinkling frost fire, tasselled
With stars and moons — the same
That yesterday hid in the spinney and had no fame
Till we put out the lights now….

So feast your eyes now
On mimic star and moon-cold bauble:
Worlds may wither unseen,
But the Christmas Tree is a tree of fable,
A phoenix in evergreen….

From Christmas in the Good Old Days: A Victorian Album  by Daniel J. Foley:

“When the December issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book appeared in 1850, that old German custom, the Christmas tree, became a conversation piece all across America. Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor, had ‘borrowed’ a picture from The Illustrated London News and entitled it ‘The Christmas tree — a new American custom.’ In the years that followed, churches and homes were decorated lavishly with colorful trees and greens of every description, accentuated with red berries, cones, and dried seed pods. ‘Bringing home Christmas’ meant gathering greens with all the family participating. Charles Dickens, with his ‘Christmas Carol‘ and other holiday stories, had been largely responsible for the revival of this feast of the heart and the home….

“At a time when tinsel, glitter, and baubles were unknown, laurel leaves, sprigs of pine, cedar and hemlock, bittersweet berries, trailing stems of ground pine, ferns, thistle heads, clematis plumes and other wildings were used to make elaborate patterns and tracery around doorways, on mantles, dadoes, and window frames, and wherever space was available for adornment.”

From “Christmas Tree” by Laurence Smith in The Oxford Book of Christmas Poems edited by Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark:

Star over all
Eye of the night
Stand on my tree
Magical sight
Green under frost
Green under snow
Green under tinsel
Glitter and glow
Appled with baubles
Silver and gold
Spangled with fire
Warm over cold.

Six Days to Christmas: Angels (and Gnomes and Elves) Among Us

From “Christmas Carol” by Sara Teasdale in Vintage Christmas Traditions edited by Linda Davies:

The angels came from heaven high,
And they were clad with wings;
And lo, they brought a joyful song
The host of heaven sings.

The kings they knocked upon the door,
The wise men entered in,
The shepherds followed after them
To hear the song begin.

The angels sang through all the night
Until the rising sun,
But little Jesus fell asleep
Before the song was done.

From “Wild Holidays” in Gather Ye Wild Things: A Forager’s Year by Susan Tyler Hitchcock:

“Thank goodness for holidays to cheer us through the cold. And thank goodness for wild evergreens to ornament the way…. I come now, under a winter sun cold and shiny, gathering wild evergreens and gay red berries to decorate home for the holidays….

“Mountain laurel is my favorite Christmas evergreen. It can be gathered throughout the eastern mountain regions of this continent. Though harmful to farm animals that might happen upon it (and also to humans, were they to taste the unappetizing leaves), mountain laurel’s looks appeal. Its snarled, striated shrub-trunks open into bouquets of glossy evergreen…. You’ll know you’re in a mountain laurel thicket when you have to stoop to pass under overhanging boughs….

“These are magical places, shaped for elves and gnomes rather than for people.”