Light in December

posted by SWC on December 23rd, 2009 · 1 Comment | | Printer Friendly Version

Christmas present:  In Pleasantville nearly every house along Washington Avenue, which connects with Chappaqua, is filigreed with colored lights.  It is as if those old, gingerbread domiciles were themselves objects of December reverence, signaling  light and hope during our passage through the coldest and darkest time of the year.  The snow has come and not yet gone.  Christmas, white or not, in paintings, in the cards we send, in the songs, or in the mind has always been a scene, not only a narrative.  The idea is to design the scene following traditional principles and then to slip ourselves into it, if we can.  In childhood we were able to invent Christmas for ourselves, with the cooperation of a world that wanted nothing more earnestly.

Christmas past:   During my childhood in Paterson, I lived in  a mostly freethinking Jewish family in which each member was given leave to observe the December holidays in his or her own way.  We agreed that it was a time of lights and gift-giving to light the inner person.  The public school I attended, P.S. 21,  pulled out all the stops and celebrated Christmas as a  national religious  event in which everyone was expected to participate in song or verse or become a silent knight.  My kindergarten teacher was Miss Sweeney who, during her doorway chats with Miss Donahue, maintained classroom decorum by striking  ominous chords on her piano.  At Christmas she lead her 30 charges to a vendor of trees; we helped select one and the entire class carried it , a 60-legged spruce, back to our room where it was decorated with totemic care–candy canes and apples and  baubles  brought from home.

I loved the Paterson Christmas.  I loved the way the city salted the air with anticipation.  It occupied only a few days, was minimally commercial, and thanks to my Aunt Ann,  it was a time for me of many small gifts and trips downtown to see the lighted trees behind the curtained windows along stately Van Houten Street, and best of all the largest of trees on Broadway glowing  with lights of  a deeply magical blue that I have not forgotten.  Overcoming my natural child’s skepticism, I came to believe that something unexpected and personally significant would occur at this time.

As the years passed, I visited Paterson rarely.  Although the times were improving, it seemed to me that the world’s heart had gotten colder and darker.  And so I chose January 10th as the quintessential “Paterson Day” when the last of the Christmas trees were abandoned on the sidewalks, some of them still smoldering, when the lights still glimmered faintly around the windows of neighborhood taverns, and the starlings that desecrated the statues in front of City Hall screamed insults at people rushing to their buses.   It was the Thirteenth Day of Christmas.  The January syndrome.  This is how it is, how it really is, I told myself.  And for me Christmas became a more closely held event with a friend or two in front of my own fireplace, toasting Light in December.

Christmas future:  Now I am back in a small town Christmas with occasional visits to the spectacular displays at or near  Grand Central Station.   This is the future.  I can understand the tension between those who want to make the public Christmas go away and those who want it to stay.  Christmas comes too soon and stays too long.  And then, once again the darkly ordinary, the ice storms and the penalty of Adam.

And we are, more surely as adults, subject to our child’s skepticism and propensity for disappointment.  With some difficulty we align and balance our givings and takings,  the self-indulgent  Saturnalias and the ascent of the spirit, while we seek if for only an hour the elusive light of our childhood’s perfect self.

One comment

  1. thank you I do my best @ Christopher, I suppose what I’ve been randieg about and reflecting upon is what’s leading us to get distracted there’s probably a reason behind it. Either the thing we should’ be doing isn’t really where our heart lies, or fear / the lizard mind (as Seth Godin would call it) is throwing up distractions to stop us from doing something scary (but also what we want).@ Lori, thank you so much for those words. I suppose my reply is that is simply how I see it. It would amaze me to see it another way. But perhaps I need to reflect a bit on just what that means for me and what I do. (Okay, there’s no perhaps about it I do.)

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