Monday, 29 December 2008


A large wave of reverie is flowing over me. Another Christmas has come and gone. The parties are over; weekend guests have departed; hugs and kisses are suspended; and this fleeting year has all but ended.

The intensity of the month preceding Christmas was filled with such energy: Lights to string around the yard; the tree to decorate; gifts to surprise; the anticipation of family dinners; the warm smells of shortbreads, fruitcake, and gingersnaps. Today, however, clich├ęd metaphors, like deflated balloons, or unstrung puppets, or kites without a tailwind, crawl in behind my back and press against an aching nostalgia.

With each passing year I am discovering that my personal experience of Christmas is changing. And while I continue to use most of the same decorations of the past, prepare the favourite treats of children young and old, and bake the same special turkey recipe that I have been making for thirty years or more, a new slant to the program is emerging.

Perhaps it is the arrival of new babies, or puppies, or the memories of family members who are no longer with us, or those who could not join us this year. Sometimes, the season involves several gatherings, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Each family is wanting its turn to show off their decorated homes, to host their family and friends.

On other occasions, like this year, for instance, there was a huge four day event prior to the actual Christmas week, including out-of-town guests ranging in age from four months to ninety-four years. The baby and the senior both needed care above and beyond the resilient energies of the season or the hosts. By the time Christmas Day actually arrived, lovely as it was, it was somehow an echo of Christmases Past, with fewer of us at the table, and quieter than in other years.

And now I reflect on how the whole series of celebrations might have been different, maybe even better for all of us. What plans could I try to coordinate for next year? I am beginning to realize, however, that most of what happens around me on such occasions is becoming increasingly beyond my control. My children now orchestrate the rituals for their own homes, families, and timelines. I have become audience to their plans and programs, in much the same way that my own parents were relegated to the second balcony when I became the concertmaster of festivities for my young family.

All of this is totally natural, of course. It is how generations evolve. I guess it is just that we are not handed a guidebook at the outset of each stage of our progression through foggy mists or glaring sunshine. We are only granted the option to live through it, eyes wide open, or shut, as we choose. Sometimes a wink can be mistaken for a nod.

So why am I feeling melancholy? I know it is a conflagration of many things. Is this my mother’s last Christmas? Will we have the sledding, snowfires, "Christmas in the country" next year? Will my sister and niece make it a tradition to come back next year, as they said they would, with great enthusiasm, at their departure? I think not. Too many other interruptions will prevent their best laid plans.

Gerard Manley Hopkins' famous poem about a young girl, Margaret, crying at the sight of a tree losing its leaves in the fall, concludes with the line allowing that, in truth, she is not mourning the loss of the leaves but rather, “It is Margaret you mourn for.” Perhaps that realization applies to many of us at this time of year.

So please excuse me while I take leave of my current nostalgia. I need to go outdoors, windy as it is today, and break the ice in the creek to allow the water to flow more freely under the culvert. Smashed boxes and torn Christmas wrappings are languishing in the garage, waiting to be loaded into the wheelbarrow and carted to the fire pit at the back of the garden. Enroute I will stop to marvel again at the frozen apples still clinging to the orchard tree, like suspended Christmas ornaments. Surrounding us, throughout the year, nature shows off and throws off its own decorations and seasons without remorse. And so should I.


Starzz said...

Beautifully written...
brought a tear to my eye.
You are so insightful.
Thoughts we all can relate to.
I am not good with words..but I love reading yours..and find myself saying..yes yes yes..

Thank you.

Marylou said...

Thank you for your own lovely words. I was hoping this little reverie would resonate with you. In all my entries, I am trying to stay true to my theme of "Reflections After Sixty". It is very encouraging to have a sympathetic and understanding reader like yourself.

persephone said...

Thank you Marylou. I read your latest entry yesterday and was so moved that I had to let a day go by (to mull over ) before replying.

Like Carol, I found myself nodding and agreeing with you over a lot of your thoughts...'today, however, cliched metaphors like deflated against an aching nostalgia.' Wonderful !

What is it about Christmas that brings up such conflicting emotions? You've mentioned a few triggers...missing family members , growing children, a sense of time passing ...'we are not handed a guidebook'. Maybe like your Margaret, we are mourning for our selves and the passing of time.

On the other hand, even with the little tugs of nostalgia and sense of 'missingness' , I quite like this week between Christmas and New Years as it's a time to absorb and remember little details . I have time now to reread Christmas cards and letters and put together photos. And as you say, even make plans for next year!

But I miss all the energy and sense of anticipation involved in 'getting ready' too!

I smiled imagining you out in the snow, cracking creek ice, admiring the frozen apples and losing the nostalgic feelings in the hard physical exercise.

I will send you a photo of snow (we had SNOW in Victoria! ) on the last of our roses.

This is too long and rambley a comment (sorry!) but I have to enclose one of my favourite quotes about Christmas from Dylan Thomas'
'A Child's Christmas in Wales'...'of the voices that I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.'

For me it recaptures that warm feeling you have as you remember parts and bits of past Christmases but forget exactly which year something happened and it does not matter in the least.

Happy New Year Marylou and thank you for your insights ansd wisdom.


Marylou said...

Claire: I love your rambling comments...You really must start your own blog...and I would put it on my list of daily readings...Aside from your own wonderful thoughts, your mind is full of the wit and wisdom of so much literature...share, share...

And you understood exactly...we mourn our own mortality with the passing of each season. ..

At the same time, I agree with you that this transitional week is time for positive reverie and reminiscences of the best moments from the season and the year. But I thought such a blog might be just a little too pollyannaish and cloying...I do like to get my teeth into those emotions that gnaw and sometimes bite...
My next few entries might even have a growl or two.


Dave said...

Ahh, the melancholy of post-partum Christmas celebrations so beautifully rendered.

Is it that we build unrealistic expectations through December, that, like speculative bubbles, burst in a frenzy of gift opening. Does reality rush in too quickly to replace decorated halls of the imagination, where Christmas joy and love infuse every moment?

Or is it more than that? Something more primal perhaps with origins in the shortest day and longest night of winter solstice? Is it the bittersweet feeling that we share with our ancient ancestors, where we celebrate the joys of rebirth while mourning the passing of what went before, where past is prologue to the promise of tomorrow? An endless cycle.

the elliptical observer