Seems like there used to be more time at Christmas. The space-time continuum would yawn and create time-warp wrinkles for things like pomanders, and popcorn strings, and lone peppermint sticks sucked on while the snow fell.
A pomander really takes no time at all, you know. An orange or a lemon, a toothpick, and a stack of clove nails are all you need. There is the pre-drill of a Victorian design into the juicy flesh of the citrus, and then there is the shoving of the cloves in one at a time. Thus is born for the mantle a refashioned fruit, redolent of holiday cheer and mulling spices, and representative of something sweet and simple and old-fashioned.
Yes, and every holiday season used to bring me time for batch after batch of biscotti, the two classic flavors friends and family got to know and ask for. A cookie so hard and crunchy you could stir your coffee with it. One year, early on, I made the mistake of adding four times the amount of anise seed — nailing the current more-is-better version. A year later, I found an electric knife in the Free Box and had an epiphaniscotti. Perfect slices every time. Time + serendipity = personal tradition.
Some Christmases, I actually had time to hand write cards I’d actually thought to buy early in December. My sincere — if minimalist — attempts were a weak semaphore response to the yearly newsletters that would appear in my mailbox, the ones with collage insets accompanying timelines, news of children, countries visited, accomplishments achieved. The ones I would stare at, thinking, wow, nothing but, wow.
Years ago, I used to build gingerbread houses with lifesaver windows and ice them and light them from inside. And even though the engineering and construction were crude, we made up for it with ornate candy detailing and yards filled with snow. Best of all, we’d stare it into real-ness, wondering who might live at such an address, who might be lucky enough to nibble on sweet walls instead of simply leaning on them.
Well, this year, I can’t keep the birdhouses full. The biscotti are not made. There are friends whose December birthdays I’ve missed and family I’ve not yet sent cards to. I’m behind on presents, bookkeeping and home-keeping. In fact, the uttermost apex of my current Christmas-keeping skills is watering. Watering the poinsettia, narcissus and amaryllis. Is time going faster every year, am I slowing down, or both?
Amidst all of this, I keep thinking of my father, who, somehow clueless to the fray of Christmas, used to do his own thing as my mom figured out the nuts and bolts of making it all happen. Dad would always and invariably get each of the kids dried fruit. Every year, trays of fruit from Harry & David. Apricots, dates, figs, pears, prunes, a few cherries and a little plastic two-pronged fork all mandala’d under Cellophane. Sometimes my sister and I would get a silk scarf or perfume. He would spend an entire night making bows out of curling ribbon, and wrapping boxes with the precision of a machine.
I never considered my father anything remotely resembling a peaceful man; but there were moments like these when, preoccupied by a small but mindful task, one could feel peace, unmitigated and expansive, emanating from him, through the walls, even, and into other rooms in the house, washing over everyone like a golden wave.
So, here it is, back again in the blink of an eye, the season of PEACE and JOY spelled out everywhere, from cards and pillows, to hand towels and welcome mats, to blinking lights strung across houses and yards. Everywhere we step, we are asked to step more lightly, more presently into the next moment, to honor slowing down and to take time to be present for whatever meaning exists for each of us at winter solstice. To smile even as we wince at the task list. To reprioritize, possibly pare down. To attempt to feel the deep peace we give lip service to, and to pass it on to the next person.
Here, now, as the sky darkens into black night, big fat bright flakes fall from the sky, aware of nothing, attached to nothing, quietly laying an immaculate blanket of peace onto the earth. Deer and elk bed down and bunnies burrow. Rivers freeze and the world glistens. And here, too, from the window, as we witness winter’s mystery, there is space-time – freshly created! — for wonderment, and thanks, and the true spirit of the season.