To keep Christmas well
It is from one of the take-away lines from A Christmas Carol, that Mr. Scrooge learned “to keep Christmas well...” variations of which we repeat every year, wondering why we cannot maintain the magic of the season throughout the cold of winter, the activity of spring, the wilting summer and — for some of us the constricted, increasing darkness of fall.
It has been years since I put up any sort of tree, and more years since I had any live one, the best, a Douglas fir, taken outside only when my brother and his family were set to arrive in late July. The worst was the year following, a poor spruce that lost more needles on its way in than that freak-of-nature fir had on its way out the previous summer.
And there the live trees ended, replaced, at first, by a little, pre-lighted artificial evergreen. That went the way of something I’d intend to bring down “next year,” until it was not even a thought in December. I knew it was upstairs, with many, neatly packed ornaments, collected over the decades. This year, I’d thought to send cards and went into the little store room thinking to find some from when I was on the mainland for the holidays, back when sales of all things Christmas didn’t come in full force until Boxing Day.
There was only one box of cards, which I did bring down, which remains, waiting, with the little packet purchased, to be written and addressed and mailed.
The tree, though, I not only brought down but put up, where the old analog television had been, that appliance which, sort of like that old Doug fir, would not die while its replacement sat languishing in a box. It was among the fatalities/ blessings of my brief stay in the hospital for broken arm surgery, when the extraordinary trio of women who own and/ or ride the horses who brought life back to the farm land around my house, managed to bring more order to my house in the few days I was gone than I ever could have imagined.
I was inspired to light the tree by a wall of bright Christmas color on the corner of Mansion Road, the inspiration facilitated by having that space available.
It took me back, yet again, to the memory of Christmases past. There were fewer people but it seemed everyone had lights, and as I’ve have been saying for a few weeks, we could see them for the lack of brush. While I have been focused on the houses that were part of yearround life that are now dark all winter more pieces have finally fallen into place.
And so, I thought of those lights and of “my” neighborhood, once the whole of the Neck, and started a mental exercise — which before I was part way through — turned to writing what was here from Scotch Beach to the North End in my earliest memory.
I try to explain it is not that I have a great memory, it is that so little happened when I was a child, that each new house was an event worthy of note. I made my list, down the west side of the Neck Road and back out the east, and the next day made a rare trip to the North End. Looking back I realized I might have missed one house. The town appraisal records show it being built the year I was born and I was born mid-year so even had I been aware of my surrounding I would not remember “before.”
It wasn’t just the Christmas lights and the open fields, the houses that were occupied year-round were in little clusters, still often known by name of family that had built them generations back, each a little history lesson in who was related to whom and why the names didn’t always align the way one would suppose they should.
Often, people remark on the wide open fields of old photographs, taken when the land was farmed and grazed, when the walls were kept clear, but never wonder at how far a light could shine, how interconnected scattered houses could be on a dark winter night from nothing more than a lamp-lighted window.
Yes, I do realize keeping Christmas well isn’t about leaving up decorations but, on the other hand, as we move into this new year still facing so many unknowns, a little extra illumination, an extra infusion of cheer as the increase in daylight holds the possibility of a deeper cold, an extra reminder of neighborhood, can do no harm.
We may have flipped the calendar but 2020 is far from over, if ever we needed to return to the light, to civility and decency and honesty, to move beyond the shadow of yesterday and make it, truly, yesterday, it is now.