December 21. Winter Solstice.
I’ve become rather curmudgeonly lately. Actually, I’ve always been curmudgeonly, but it was masked in a slightly sweet, outwardly accommodating package. Now that I become more and more crone-like, my innate curmudgeon is beginning to show like grey roots in a too-long neglected dye job.
Because of that quality, each year it gets harder and harder to muster up the proper enthusiasm for Christmas preparations. Forget the ‘reason for the season’, it just seems like so much cultural thuggishness to expect everyone to go in search of a tree, pull out ornaments, redo the house, and spend money on things so that they can be unwrapped and added to the stockpile of the slightly appreciated stuff that washes over all of us. I don’t like being pushed around, and Christmas seems like the ultimate push-around season, theologically, commercially, and culturally.
This year my denial seemed more powerful than ever. I eventually went looking for a tree of some small size, but balked at the cost, and so put it off. I have neglected to bake, to clean, to decorate, or even to think about gifts for those I love. However, on Monday, a gathering of friends – English teachers, in fact, was mustered together for a poetry reading gathering in front of the fire, and I found the spirit trying, in some small way, to peek through. I went out and cut some evergreen branches and fashioned them into a kind of tree shape, and festooned them with strings of random lights and paper snowflakes and some sea glass that someone had given me. I dug a wreath out of storage & put it by the back door, and that was about it. Still, it was something, and I’ve gotten an inordinate amount of pleasure from that misshapen ‘tree’.
I’ve never been much of a poetry fan. I am an impatient reader, and poetry requires slowing down, paying attention, and thinking about words and their connections to each other. But these wonderful people, first befriended by my sister, started coming over every now and then some winters ago, reading together the works of Shakespeare, Chekhov, Wendell Berry, various poets. Whoever came could bring something to share, and we’d read out loud, then react. The blessing of it all has been to witness and join in direct and meaningful engagement with the spirits of the writers, dead and living. The blessing has been to slow down and really hear the words. The blessing has been to sit around with people who really care passionately about writing and reading and are deeply engaged, but to keep it light, at the same time.
On Monday we added a couple of friends and found ourselves sharing food (which seemed almost miraculously to arrive), the inevitable beer and wine (yay for those ancient intoxicants), and the intoxication of words and friendship. A Christmas poem by Richard Wilbur had been set to music, and one of our company, an accomplished musician, played the piano in the chilly parlor as we all sang along and warmed the place up. That inspired us to sing other slightly obscure Christmas songs, and then it was back to poetry.
This, I thought, is the Christmas spirit, and this too is the Jabez Bacon House spirit. This is a house made for people to come together and do things, to make music as sharing rather than as performance, to listen to poetry for the shared meaning of it, and just to experience the animal pleasures of being together on a chilly night, eating, drinking and talking. It’s a house that was designed to be shared – each of the over-the -top paneled rooms shouts out that people were intended to be here, enjoying it. I am so glad that we did.