Anyone who knows me, or who has been to my home, knows that I am a bit of a bibliophile. I may start the week off by practicing the fine art of concealment by tucking tomes away in cupboards or neatly stacking volumes in out of site spots but by the end of the week you will find books anywhere from on top of the dryer to beside the tub. I can’t help it! I get an idea or just want to read a quick poem to clear my head and voila! my scattered thoughts are evidenced by the scattered books throughout my home. I have to admit-I see this as a good thing.
Take for example T. S. Eliot-well, not him personally but my tattered copy of his collected poems. I was doing a little random research-opening a book and reading only the first poem I saw-just a little exercise in serendipity-and Mr. Eliot’s collection was what I grabbed. I love this practice because it can be surprising and, sometimes, alarmingly applicable to certain situations! I kind of chuckled to myself when I opened it to The Cultivation of Christmas Trees. I have been in this battle of wills about Christmas music-will I or will I not (OK, I admit it-I caved-but only a little). This poem seemed to fit the bill-almost to a ‘T’.
I love Christmas music, Christmas trees, Christmas parties, Christmas food-the list could go on and on. As far back as I can recall I have memories of crawling under the Christmas tree and lying on my back to stare in wonder at the lights, ornaments and the lace-like pattern of the branches. I could do this for hours! I can distinctly remember my mother commenting that this was a bit odd but I really didn’t care-I was transported by this experience. Even now, if I close my eyes and concentrate I can capture a bit of that same feeling and almost smell the crisp pine scent of trees gone by.
I am also one of those folks who groans when I see Christmas lights side by side with haunted houses and plastic mummified remains. There is something so wrong about that-at least to me. Retailers are in such a hurry to hurry the consumer along-encouraging us to gorge ourselves on every conceivable pleasure as soon as possible and as much as possible without pleasure or reverence. So, forgive me if I get a little irritated when I hear Boris Karloff styled organ music mingling with the strains of a digitized Silent Night blasting from the rotating tree stand one row over.
To everything there is a season-why can’t we enjoy each season for what it is? What happened to anticipation? To that sense of excitement knowing that the day after Halloween we would be greeted by pilgrims and turkeys and after Thanksgiving the stores would be transformed and the downtown streets would be alight with sparkling decorations? At the rate we are going we are going to be faced with a new retail holiday called HallowThanksMass that begins sometime immediately following PresiTineAtricks day! Ooh, I am sounding a little soap-boxy-not at all the direction I was going.
Back to T. S. Eliot. I am in no rush to blow past Thanksgiving but I do revel in that old anticipation and the preparation of my head and heart for the season. So, with that in mind here is his poem:
There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish–which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.
The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the feast as an event not accepted as a pretext:
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first-remembered Christmas Tree,
So that the surprises, delight in new possessions,
(Each one with its peculiar and exciting smell),
The expectation of the goose or turkey
And the expected awe on its appearance,
So that the reverence and the gaity
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to the children
(And here I remember also with gratitude
St. Lucy, her carol, and her crown of fire):
So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By “eightieth” meaning whichever is the last)
The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.
T. S. Eliot|Collected Poems 1909-1962, Harcourt Brace & Co.
So, maybe some of his words are reflected in what I said before but Eliot distills the essence of my joy mingled with my discontent and creates an eloquent reminder of the significance of Christmas in my life. OK, lesson learned now I need to apply it! My goal for this multiple holiday season is to multiply my understanding of what is real, what is good, and to celebrate that with gratitude, reverence and joy.
Whether it is turkey and trimmings, Menorahs and Dreidels or holly and ivy–may each of your holiday preparations be “concentrated into a great joy”
(and yes, I will probably indulge in Christmas music again before Thanksgiving-call it a weakness…)