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TOM CHANEY. Dec. 4, 2006: Old fashioned Christmas

Of writers and their books: Lots of writers, lots of works, on the holidays
By Tom Chaney, Proprietor, The Bookstore, Horse Cave, KY
SEIZE THE DAY. Comments on the holidays

The holidays are upon us again. We've got by Thanksgiving with Christmas and the New Year hoving into view.

For many of us, this time of year is a depressing time -- one which should be filled with joy. The sense of the harvest celebration of Thanksgiving plenty is pretty much lost in a world where turkey is frozen in the meat counter and corn comes in cans.

Ever since Halloween we have been bombarded with the advent of Christmas. On the year's best/worst shopping day -- Black Friday -- reports of greedy mobs grabbing the newest electronic gadgets make a mockery of the ideal of peace and renewal that is Christmas.

Thirty years ago a friend of mine in southeastern Kentucky informed her family that they were going to celebrate Christmas in an old fashioned way. No gifts or ornaments were allowed unless they were made by the giver. A few days after she made this announcement, I asked her youngest son what kind of Christmas he was expecting.

"Old fashioned," he replied -- his twelve-year-old voice dripping with sarcasm.

"What kind is that?" I queried.

"Cheap!" he replied.

But, strip away the glitzy electronics and the rampant greed -- the bad music and gaudy decorations, and we are left with some important values to celebrate.

Of course there is the renewal of the ties of family and friendship. The generosity toward those in need comes into play.

There is more.

We celebrate the passing of time and life and friends and family lost to that passing.

In a Thanksgiving presentation on National Public Radio one commentator quoted former poet laureate Billy Collins. "All poetry is about death," he said. It is one of the ways we come to terms with that specter. The poet helps us tie up death, grief, and sorrow into a bundle and put it aside so that we may continue to live.

I think often of a little poem by Emily Dickenson.
The hardest part of death
Is sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away.
Or the plaintive cry of Dylan Thomas:
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
So, with the help of time and a bit of poetry, we manage to continue with our petty affairs beyond the deaths of those we love -- knowing that life, not love has gone.

But one of the poignant beauties of the holidays -- Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year -- is the practice of unwrapping the bundles of the dead to celebrate their lives, their food, their things. We take the injunction "seize the day" quite seriously, since there is nothing else left to grasp save our little allotment of time.

William Faulkner, referring here to the south, might have been speaking of the proper savoring of life itself when he said "The past is not gone, it's not even past."

So let our holidays be the time when folks gone are present once again.

Find the axe that father used to cut down the cedar tree on a friend's farm -- go not to the seller of Christmas trees spread out like used cars on a lot. Bring out the old ornaments connected with past Christmases for decoration.

Let it be the time when mother's recipe for boiled custard is served in the old jelly glasses she used at Christmas.

And, most of all, remember the stories that are our past.

Tell of the eighty-year-old aunt who left her house on a frozen Christmas morning and found her car doors frozen shut -- all but one in the back seat -- and who clambered into the driver's seat only to discover the car wouldn't start. Who crawled out the same way, called a neighbor to get her car started, and made it into town in time for biscuits and ham and gifts and stories.

And remember the Christmas of 1945 when the joy of peace brought the cousins home from war -- cousins all gone now -- full of optimism for life once again, sadly rejoicing in their escape from the fire that consumed their friends. Forgiven for the moment -- they spiked their custard with a little too much of "Oh! Be Joyful" -- and by Christmas next that joy had consumed them.

And recall that before there was Christmas, the celebration of the death and the promise of new life in the earth marked the depth of winter and the life of spring emerging from the dying of the old year.

Let us set aside the greed and gaudy trappings of the modern holidays.

Let us be sensitive to the holy dead -- the cloud of unseen witnesses out of which we have emerged and whom we will join all too soon.

"Seize the Day!" It is what we have before the final dark.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, smoking pipe-weed, and occasionally selling books at:
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney bookstore@scrtc.comVisit website: The Bookstore

This story was posted on 2006-12-04 04:15:25
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