Here we are again at what I have always thought of as the bottom of the year, the trough of a great sine wave. From here, we start the long slow climb to July, as the sun comes back a bit more each day. We have always thought more of the season as Yule, the ancient Germanic and Norse holiday, a holiday of warmth, light, tradition, and fellowship, in the dark of winter. The halls are decked with evergreens, and the windows lit with candles.
We woke this morning to new snow, the sparkly sort which coats the evergreens and bare branches. It came after we went to bed last night, long after we had come back on dry highways from my brother’s, where my parent’s ornaments, older than I, hung on the tree among cookies, popcorn garlands, and twig stars newly made. The ancient Santa candle, in Norman Rockwell style, that sat on the edge of my parent’s mantle, is there too. On the drive back, we listened to Dylan Thomas’s reading of his “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” a tradition started long ago when we spent days on the road at Christmas.
Our own tree has paper snowflakes, cut from dissertation bond, cotton rag paper meant to last forever, or at least a long as anyone would want to read your dissertation, by graduate school friends at a tree-trimming party, precursor to our annual open houses, on our first Christmas. There are Victorian cardboard ornaments, bought on a trip to the Smithsonian, German candleholders from my Aunt Elizabeth, and various ornaments made and given over the years.
On the mantle are more evergreens from the yard, with cousin Øyvind Kjølsrud’s box and a Julekniss we got in Norway. We have email greetings from his son Arne, whose big-band music we listened to yesterday.
And every year, the rituals, old but evolving – grapefruit and black bean soup for Christmas Eve supper, Julekage and grapefruit for Christmas breakfast. My mother served an angel food birthday cake, with grapefruit, for Christmas breakfast, to which her brother-in-law famously asked, the first time he encountered it, “Whose birthday is it?” The top was decorated with tiny Nativity scene candles. We have substituted Robert’s grandmother’s Norwegian Christmas sweet bread.
Dylan Thomas says
Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: “It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”
“But that was not the same snow,” I say. “Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards.”
One Christmas was so much like the other, in those years around the sea-town corner now, out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices 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.
The generations pass, the years roll around, and come to the dark again, and we light the lights and bring in the Yule log, the holly and the ivy, a few bits of green, hope and remembrance, give each other bits of delight, and the snow falls.