Category Archives: Christmas

The opposite of not getting in trouble.

My Christmas tree is still standing in my entryway, at the bottom of the stairwell. It’s handy to have an artificial tree so that it never starts looking worn out and dried up. I didn’t get it out of its box and trimmed until very late, and then all the days this month that I was mostly in bed because of my viruses, I couldn’t even see it much. I missed many services of Nativity and Theophany in which I might have been reminded by poetry and theology of the significance of “Immanuel: God with us.”

So bear with me if I continue on the theme of the Incarnation. After all it is, as was pointed out to me not long ago, the second most important point of Christian doctrine, after the Holy Trinity. If we truly live, we live it every day. And it’s worth giving extra attention to at least once a year. 🙂

One of the days I was in bed I started listening to The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West. I would love to hear if any of  my readers has read this book or others in the Aubrey Trilogy of which it is first. This makes the third time I will have read this novel in the last ten years, and I could count on one hand the novels I’ve read three times in my whole life. I read the other two in the series as well, This Real Night and Cousin Rosamund, and a totally different novel of hers, The Birds Fall Down.

They have all made me ask what sort of woman could create these fascinating characters and dramas, portrayed by means of the most revealing dialogue and natural prose. After I started sitting up in the recliner I began to read The Extraordinary Life of Rebecca West by Lorna Gibb. It appears that there is a lot of autobiographical material in The Fountain Overflows, set in England in the Edwardian period. I don’t know if I will ever be able to write a good review of this book or any of West’s; they seem too vast and rich — and mysterious — for me to grasp, and that makes me wonder, Why am I so taken with her as a writer? and How does she accomplish this enchantment? I have some ideas — maybe they will lead to something!

The only reason I have for saying anything just now is, I ran across this passage about a Christmas Day the Aubrey Family celebrated. It contains one of the thought-provoking pearls of wisdom and understanding that are found liberally scattered throughout, not ever as little sermons, but as insights that come to the narrator Rose, or a phrase spoken by the mother as she’s trying to answer one of her children’s questions.

The father of the family wastes and loses money in various ways, so that they are always on the brink of disaster. In the passage below, the young Rose calls him “unlucky,” but the reader knows that it’s a case of children wanting to think the best of their father. His indiscretions or outright shameful behavior are the reason he and his family are always needing rescuing.

On Christmas Day the mother stays home with the maid to prepare Christmas dinner, and the father walks to church with the four children. The girls, having been musically trained to listen carefully and critically to every piece of music they hear, are often unable to enjoy anything slightly imperfect. The italics are mine:

“In church we were so contented that we did not think of the choir as music and did not approve or disapprove, but gratefully took it that it was giving tongue to what was in our hearts. ‘How bright,’ Mary whispered in my ear, ‘the silver dishes on the altar are.’ We liked the holly round the pulpit, the white chrysanthemums on the altar. Of late Mary and I had doubts about religion, we wished God had worked miracles that would have enabled Mamma to keep Aunt Clara’s furniture and saved Papa from his disappointment over the deal in Manchester, but now faith was restored to us. We saw that it was good of God to send His Son to earth because man had sinned, it was the opposite of keeping out of trouble, which was mean, it was the opposite of what Papa’s relatives were doing in not wanting to see him just because he had been unlucky. We liked the way Richard Quinn stood on the seat of the pew and, though he had been told he must be good and sit as still as a mouse in this holy place, nuzzled against Papa’s shoulder and sometimes put up his face for a kiss, certain that showing love for Papa must be part of being good.”

The picture of the family in church is sweet, but it’s the way the love of God and His willingness to come to our aid are put in a child’s very personal terms that strikes me. They paraphrase a word I really appreciate in regard to His taking on human flesh and frailty, human sin and soul-sickness and chains of death: solidarity. Glory to God in the highest!

A convocation of birds and Glad people.

Meeting my great-grandaughter Lori for the first time was surely a highlight of this Christmas. Her family drove in two days from Washington state, and stayed a week. I had been to her parents’ wedding in 2017, but this was also my first chance to spend much time with her dear mother Izzy, and that too was a highlight.

Truly, it has been ten days of countless overlapping highs and lights such that at this stage the brightness confuses me, and there don’t seem to be points of focus. Also, several of our party were not feeling well in one way or another; I caught one of their bugs that is making me dull. But there are pictures!

Many weeks ago I had told my contractor that if we could just get the “floors and doors” on the new rooms, I would be content to receive my guests. That was barely accomplished by Friday evening the 20th. Primer and/or paint had been applied in some rooms; the painters worked till 11:00 p.m. Then I spent hours moving stuff around to accommodate the thirteen extra sleepers, and made multiple rounds with dust cloths, but the dust was settling for days after the drywallers had left, so that effort was disappointing.

Soldier and family had come from Colorado and were staying with Joy’s parents’ nearby. He and Laddie and Brodie came over on Saturday to put up my tree and decorate it with me. Sunday and Monday the rest of the family arrived.

In addition to Colorado and Washington, family traveled from Washington D.C., Wisconsin, Oregon, and two towns in California. Fourteen of us spread out among six rooms including the living room; 28 total were feasting together and catching up over two days. Two older grandsons didn’t make it down from the north, but a cousin joined us for a few hours. We had four children under two among us, two of whom were just six and seven months old. Several of the children were jet-lagged and a bit distressed by the noisy crowd, but a dozen aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents were on hand to rock and comfort them.

I myself started sleeping better as soon as we crossed from “Before Christmas” into “When the children arrive.” Pearl organized us all into cooking teams, and before that I’d done most of the shopping. Everyone pitched in with everything, including whatever I hadn’t done, and overlooked the dust.

I made the future sewing room into a wrapping room, for all those people who had shipped packages here unwrapped. The crib had been re-assembled Sunday afternoon and it went back and forth from that room into the new guest bedroom, along with a Pack-n-Play. Those rooms had no real window coverings, and there was ample sunshine for more than a week. What a blessing that was. In various groupings people went to the park, on a hike, on a creek walk. The conversations were compelling, and I had to force myself to go to bed while all my favorite people were still talking and laughing, and showing their wonderfulness.

On Christmas Eve Day Pippin made a list for me of all the birds we had seen that day, several of which she had identified for me.

Mourning Dove
Towhee
Scrub Jay
Tufted Titmouse
Anna’s Hummingbird
Townsend’s Warbler
Red-Breasted Nuthatch
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
Lesser Goldfinch
Pine Siskin
Black-Capped Chickadee
Junco
White-Crowned Sparrow
Field ? Sparrow
Song Sparrow
English Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
House Finch
Bushtit
Nuttall’s Woodpecker

I was thrilled at the abundance of birds! Once I was carrying Raj around in the garden trying to calm him down. It was cool and sunny, and we looked at plants and flowers, and he had become quiet. I was talking in a low voice as we walked on to the patio, and suddenly realized that a song sparrow was busy at the feeder not two feet away. When we got yet closer it moved to the other side of the feeder but didn’t fly away. Close as I was, my picture is blurry, I suppose because I was holding a 30-lb child in my arms while shooting it.

On Christmas Day Kate and I took Raj and Rigo to church. The boys were surprisingly attentive and well-behaved… until they weren’t. So we had to go home a little early. In my neighborhood I scowled into my camera to get this shot, not realizing I was in the picture with the shepherds.

The last seven guests departed today, including three of the littlest ones. As far as my house is concerned, we are mostly now in the “After Christmas” period, when remodeling work is supposed to start up again. But I have a feeling things will be pretty quiet until 2020 arrives, and that’s okay, because I have lots of debriefing to do with myself, and processing of all the love and good deeds and good wishes that flowed into the house and all over the place. And a few more Days of Christmas during which I will make some plates of cookies for the neighbors, and watch the Iceland Poppies bloom.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Waking with the living pains.

Three years ago I first posted this poem, which Malcolm Guite had introduced me to in his collection, Waiting on the Word. I looked at it again today on his website where as usual you can listen to him read it if you like. By means of the earthiest concrete images Anne Ridler offers a vision and understanding that is so broad and deep, it’s providing me with fresh appreciation for all the ways that God’s grace infuses our every moment, and how His life pulls us,and prods us awake.

“The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way.”

CHRISTMAS AND COMMON BIRTH

Christmas declares the glory of the flesh:
And therefore a European might wish
To celebrate it not at midwinter but in spring,
When physical life is strong,
When the consent to live is forced even on the young,
Juice is in the soil, the leaf, the vein,
Sugar flows to movement in limbs and brain.
Also before a birth, nourishing the child
We turn again to the earth
With unusual longing—to what is rich, wild,
Substantial: scents that have been stored and strengthened
In apple lofts, the underwash of woods, and in barns;
Drawn through the lengthened root; pungent in cones
(While the fir wood stands waiting; the beech wood aspiring,
Each in a different silence), and breaking out in spring
With scent sight sound indivisible in song.

Yet if you think again
It is good that Christmas comes at the dark dream of the year
That might wish to sleep ever.
For birth is awaking, birth is effort and pain;
And now at midwinter are the hints, inklings
(Sodden primrose, honeysuckle greening)
That sleep must be broken.
To bear new life or learn to live is an exacting joy:
The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way
It will happen, or master the responses beforehand.
For any birth makes an inconvenient demand;
Like all holy things
It is frequently a nuisance, and its needs never end;
Freedom it brings: We should welcome release
From its long merciless rehearsal of peace.

So Christ comes
At the iron senseless time, comes
To force the glory into frozen veins:
His warmth wakes
Green life glazed in the pool, wakes
All calm and crystal trance with the living pains.

And each year
In seasonal growth is good — year
That lacking love is a stale story at best
By God’s birth
Our common birth is holy; birth
Is all at Christmas time and wholly blest.

-Anne Ridler

Sun temples don’t celebrate in winter.

Why is Christmas on December 25? Did Christians make use of a pagan festival date when they decided to celebrate Christ’s birth? Very unlikely, as you will understand if you read William J. Tighe’s  “Calculating Christmas.”

“In the Julian calendar, created in 45 B.C. under Julius Caesar, the winter solstice fell on December 25th, and it therefore seemed obvious [to some] that the day must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one. But in fact, the date had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time, nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.

“There were two temples of the sun in Rome, one of which (maintained by the clan into which Aurelian was born or adopted) celebrated its dedication festival on August 9th, the other of which celebrated its dedication festival on August 28th. But both of these cults fell into neglect in the second century, when eastern cults of the sun, such as Mithraism, began to win a following in Rome. And in any case, none of these cults, old or new, had festivals associated with solstices or equinoxes.”

Tighe explains that “…the pagan festival of the ‘Birth of the Unconquered Sun’ instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the ‘pagan origins of Christmas’ is a myth without historical substance.”

If they didn’t choose December 25 for that reason, why did they? For reasons we never would have thought of in modern times. Read the whole brief article to find out.