Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmastime's A-Comin'

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If you want to know who I am, don't ask me where I live and what I do, but rather ask me what I am living for and ask me in very small particulars why I am doing so little about it.

---Thomas Merton

The gift given to us comes struggling to escape from the tinsel and wrapping that disguises its coming and is the gift of Hope. It comes simply, in the form of a child, born into stark poverty, without a glimmer of material excess. Here is the very heart of the Christian faith: not a threat, but an invitation. God coming to us as a baby to do for us that which we could not do for ourselves. Offering us his very life of love and justice.

---John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

The sign of Christmas is a star, a light in darkness. See it not outside of yourself, but shining in the Heaven within, and accept it as the sign the time of Christ has come.

---A Course In Miracles

The 12-wheeler roaring over that rise bears down on a scattering herd of reindeer. Do you think it's pretty certain the heavy piece of equipment on it hardly is intended for improvement of life in the Sami culture that depends on those animals? Or are these Santa's reindeer stampeding away from commercialization? But wait, those reindeer and the truck are headed straight for me, standing in the way with a camera in hand! The whole image struck me as particularly appropriate to how I feel about the approach of Christmas this year. "Christ is born" replaced by borne down upon: not good. Let me see what I can do to lift the heavy load.

Dana wanted me to write one of those newsy inserts you get these days in Christmas cards. I wish I could say I seize eagerly upon each one that tumbles from a card. I realize they're a good way to catch up with distant friends and relatives, and the years do speed by. Who has time to handwrite the same news in the cards we send out? We should write a personal greeting...but we don't. We used to...but not anymore.

Garrison Keillor gave us a sample in a column last week of the kind of Christmas newsletter that somehow does not spread the cheer around. "Tara was top scorer on the Lady Cougars soccer team and won the lead role in the college production of 'Antigone,' which by the way they are performing in the original Greek. Her essay on chaos theory as an investment strategy will be in the next issue of Fortune magazine, the same week she'll appear as a model in Vogue. How she does what she does and still makes Phi Beta Kappa is a wonderment to us all. And, yes, she is still volunteering at the homeless shelter." How wonderful for Tara and her parents, those cousins who always were more fortunate than we were...and still are. I read Garrison and knew a Christmas newsletter wasn't in my future this year. Not that our Ilona hasn't had an overwhelmingly stupendous year! And son Jeroch too, but it's just not that kind of Christmas this year...not yet.

Both Dana and I have been late in getting preparations started this year. I think our concern and involvement with midterm elections here are factors. In the final weeks Dana was out almost every evening, organizing and helping campaigns. As December rolled around we had a house full of chores to do. They're not finished yet, but we've got to get cards and presents ready. The pressure is on and in years past that kind of excitement has inspired a certain kind of Christmas joy. But I seem to yearn for quiet contemplation this time.

Dana's Spirit must have kicked in because she's preparing her fruitcake. Yes, I actually married a woman who makes fruitcake every year. It's another of those little secrets you discover well into a marriage, when it's too late to do anything about it. This year she will celebrate the Danish side of her heritage with Lys Frugtkage. Mmmm, there's the recipe on the kitchen counter. I look for the prunes. There must be prunes. The Danes put prunes in everything. Meat, potatoes, salad, bread...always the prunes. No wonder Hamlet was melancholy. But there are no prunes listed in the ingredients. What's with these people? Fruitcake seems the perfect chance for prunes!

We'll have a Scandanavian feast on Christmas Day. Dana has invited relatives from all around, so there'll be plenty of Danes, but Norwegians and us Swedes too. Dana's Hungarian mother will just have to put up with us. Oh, we all were born in the States but over the years, we've tried to learn the traditions of the old countries to add to our combination families. My birth family was Swedish on both sides, but mostly we celebrated the Christmas of middle America. That means, as for so many of us, Jean Shepherd's Christmas Story spoke for me too. No one was a greater fan of Red Ryder and Little Beaver on the radio, but I was so far from ever hoping for a BB gun that I never even asked.

It's our contemporary Christmas that's giving problems this year. I know better than to look to the media for help in stirring my Spirit. The news on all sides is positively grim, and the TV specials are blandly confused in political correctness. At 4 AM it's about 50 degrees outside. I'd say global warming is only the tip of the iceberg, but it appears the tips are all we have left. I barely could drive home last Solstice night through fog and steam, and the London airport has been socked in all week over there. If any papers and commentary more gloomy than here exist, it's in the UK this year. Everywhere I look there is depressing soul-searching. One reviewer in the Telegraph took his assignment of the new movie The Nativity Story and ran with it for 4 online pages. "'Tis The Season To Be Tacky" he titled it last week and just bottomed out on every aspect of the English Christmas he saw unfolding.

But there, I've said it all and poured it out. I hope you don't feel worse but I do feel better. The day is about to dawn and I think the cards actually will get sent out and presents wrapped. There's no newsletter this year, but I couldn't improve anyway on the one with which Garrison concludes the column referred to up above. I'll water the tree and begin to get busy. A flickering ember of the star within is beginning to glow. Those reindeer in the photo are just about to surprise that truck driver when they lift off and fly away!

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