I am not a strong person, nor am I a violent one – but if I were, this year would not stand a chance. It just happens that I am a staunch believer in just punishment…so can one hang a year in effigy? Give it a little Guy Fawkes taste? Perhaps there is someone I can talk to about this.
So if I am so disgusted, why do I even bother celebrating the holidays this blighted year? Because I must – to ignore the celebrations would be despair’s definitive high-five of victory. The erasure of joy is the key that locks the door and, my friend, just guess which side of that door you’ll be on.
Therefore we must be happy. Find a way to lift our spirits. Secure a remedy for petty annoyances. No matter what, there is still so much to welcome and embrace. For instance, I will be going to a holiday dinner tonight, and I fully intend on wearing my Christmas tree earrings – tannen-baubles – and getting spectacularly drunk. You see, sometimes it is just the small things that can keep us hopeful.
Is anyone up for a group hug? Let me know.
Happy holidays, my little ones.
“I can give you only a scattering of some of the crumbs of one man’s year, and the penny music whistles. Any memory, of the long, revolving year, will do, to begin with.” – Dylan Thomas
Not long ago I was reminded of one of my favorite Dylan Thomas pieces, “The Crumbs of One Man’s Year”. It is a soft, elegiac piece – its reflections scented lightly with rain and gentle regrets. The words are contemplative and full of understanding.
Whenever I read it, I seem to follow the writer on a journey through woods that are eternally harvest-colored, listening to the sibilant rustling of a river, watching the thoughts sailing across it like lost ships. I walk through cold air that is colored in muted pearl and infused with memories.
I thought of this essay when I was engaged on a task that was far less sentimental. I was, in fact, clearing the last remnants of my holiday cooking from the kitchen table. Pecan pieces, sprinkles, sweepings of flour and sugar: all the crumbs of my holiday were brushed away. But I did not lament – save for the poor job of cleaning I had done mere days ago – nor was I sad.
Yet the homely act of wrapping my hand in a faded kitchen towel and passing it over the tired, wooden table made me think. As the crumbs trickled towards me I recalled the year’s Thanksgiving, steeped in expectation and golden, buttery smells. As the scraps vanished into the folds of the cloth I was briefly reminded of Christmas and the flock of cookies that descend on my home like frosted and sweetened clouds. I saw the ropes of silver beads that held aloft the cards and caught once more the coy smell of pine which greeted me like a long-awaited friend for so many weeks.
They would be washed away, vanishing in a vague spiral down the drain. But fleetingly, the crumbs had caused me to remember, and to be thoughtful. And to take comfort that in a year’s time I would be performing the same chore again, and reminiscing – deeply, wistfully – about another year: its promises and its spent possibilities.
The bulb can be a homely thing. Graceless and lazy, it hibernates in the warm earth for an amount of time that is as unwieldly as its body. It waits for the tickle of spring, for its delicate awakening, before it decides to rouse itself. Then, in its airless cocoon, the petals unfold in thick pages, their margins tinted with yellow, pink and purple. After years spent curled and hidden, tulip, iris, daffodil, hyacinth, crocus and anemone stretch and yawn beginning their slow ascent through the dirt and towards the pastel-colored air.
Its growth is slow and indolent. It turns into a rich and unsubtle flower which begins to blossom below the ground before raising itself through the froth of fresh and nascent soil. It is the product of a season of growth and gentle progression. Nothing happens overnight: instead, we are given the opportunity to witness the myriad phases of Nature’s tender evolution.
Later in the year, however, there is another type of bulb. This bud looks down on the earth, blooming overnight from the branches of trees, appearing fully formed like roaring Athena bursting from the forehead of Zeus. Thin-skinned and metallic, its quickening isn’t gradual or patient: it bursts out of the tree’s holiday skin, scintillating in the winter air.
These bulbs mock the dullness of their earthly brethren. Their colors and textures yearn for the cold season when snow and stars glisten like frozen tears. They give no warning – they seem to flourish overnight, beckoned by the moon’s harvest encouragement. Then in the morning they cling to branches like ornamental fruit, an edible parure of luscious gems.
They last for only a few weeks – and then just as suddenly disappear. Evaporating into the pale air, or dissolving into the tree’s dormant flesh – the holiday shards floating through its dense veins. It would take months before the trees revive, when their next crop of blooms will be verdant and lush: a pretty generation. The winter bulbs will return in a year, when the chill curls like a shiny filigree in the air and winter beckons with promises of tinsel and silver. It will whisper promises of shining with equal fervor both by day and by night. They will shiver with frost, with the delicate sparkle of nacreous ice. And when they are delighting in the holiday’s brittle alchemy, they will then be able to celebrate the year’s greatest season once more.
It was given to me as a gift. Fragrant of the forest and Christmas, it was sprinkled with silver glitter – like a handful of stars trapped in a green, earthy sky. I was immediately taken with its symbolism, its mysterious life, its small and delicate perfection.
For weeks I kept it at work: a pretty accompaniment that countered the surrounding electricity and stress with its quiet growth and perennial tranquility. But eventually I felt it was time to bring it home. It is a chilly and dark walk home during those ending months, so I felt obligated to hold it close – this emerald hatchling unused to the provoking cold.
Once home, I placed it by the brightest window, soon noticed that it was leaning away from the light, like a spoiled child turning from a carefully prepared meal. Perhaps the sun was an insult to its shadowy past, a life nestled in the myth and darkness of the woods.
A Bed Of Roses
To add to my little tree’s alarm, I re-potted it. Its roots were balled and tangled like a fist in its old home, and I could hear it knocking to get out. But I fear it went into shock – it started to look gaunt, and began weeping tiny green needles into the brand new soil.
That was about a month ago. The tree maintains its stubborn tiny-ness, despite the somewhat breathless claims on its birth tag that it could very possibly grow to 13 feet tall. It continues to live, without doing anything as vulgar as thrive. Out of politeness, it does not flourish.
But now it’s raining; the raindrops are bouncing off the ground with a quick and liquid velocity. Perhaps my little tree will recognize this dark weather and reach towards the soft, gray air in a sudden burst of sentimentality.
I don't think I will ever enjoy Christmas as much as I did when I was a child. Back then, seemingly, all I needed to do was wear a silver – as silver as Christmas tinsel – visiting dress:
Or kneel by the tree and play with the fire engine which was undoubtedly meant for my brother:
…in order to know that the very summit of the year had been reached, the time of the bright exhale.
Christmas was the decorated, fragrant tree and a house that was remarkably changed. I had nothing to do with this – I would just watch my parents bring the holiday inside to dazzle us.
Now, during the course of the years, there have come worries, disappointments, petty ugliness and cynicism: the detritus of adulthood, of living on your own. These bruises have hurt the innocence that dared to look forward to a day because it was…happy.
But there is one good thing. Now, every Christmas it is up to me to decorate some lucky tree waiting with evergreen hope beside its brethren in some orchard/hardware parking lot. It is up to me to transform my apartment with shiny things and swathe it with all the radiance of the season. And then on The Day, I will invite my parents over so I can dazzle them.
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"Who and what are you?"
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."
"Your parents bought me when you were a child. Do the math."
"And you come to me now?"
"You used to be crazy about me. Also, I've heard you had a bad week, so I thought I'd come around."
"Oh – well, that's pretty considerate…so why did I like you so much?"
"I was a good-looking Christmas decoration – you know, distinctive. And who knows? Maybe you had a Bambi fixation as well. You were an odd kid."
"Oh, you're still pretty peculiar. What's this about you and insects?"
"Forget about that. What I meant was, why would I like you now?"
"Listen, time takes its toll, Miss Fifty-Years-Old. It's true that my antlers are melting away, my neck is cracked and my paint is withered. So, shall I be going? I mean, I don't want to take anyone's attention from that leaning-tower of a Christmas tree you have up there."
"You've got some lip for a Ghost."
"Look, I think I can do you some good."
"Well…you are kind of cute, in a recently-unearthed Herculaneum kind of way…"
"Oh, that's nice. And you're telling me I'm the mouthy one."
"Listen: what good can you do me? I have lots of decorations here."
"How many are tied to your childhood? That you loved with such enthusiastic innocence? You used to lie close to the tree, smelling its green smell and staring at me – memorizing my face, to see you through the rest of the year."
"I did that?"
"Yes – you were kind of cute, too. And I'll leave out the Vesuvius reference."
"What else do you remember?"
"Pink tulle Christmas tree ornaments…"
"Yes! I still have them?"
"Already seen and noted. I remember your mother's money tree, the year you two dressed in matching nightgowns, your cat Pandora covered in tinsel…you don't remember these things?"
"Not until now…"
"Hmmph. Clearly you need help."
"I've forgotten those past Christmases…all they meant…could you help with this one?"
"You're thinking about work, aren't you…and those stupid events in January – am I right?"
"Ha! I am that good. Anyway, I've come here to remind you of your past happy times and to fast forward them to this holiday season."
"Then can you stay with me? I want to remember. Would you mind?"
"Not at all…by the way – I don't know when you last cleaned this table…but you missed a spot."
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I've enjoyed seeing everyone elf themselves. Really. I've learned that it isn't only hope, but it's also foolishness that springs eternal.
But once you've donned the green velvet suit and and snappy stiped stockings, does that mean that you become one of Santa's nameless drones? A ghastly groveling group of grunts - unidentifiable from one another?
It's a terrifying possibility. Which is why you need this. Why it comes from Shropshire, I don't think we have to ask, do we?
An extra treat is the list of messages towards the bottom.
Enjoy, won't you?
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