Christmas present for birders from the feeders at Sapsucker Woods (Cornell). The pileated woodpecker to your right (middle feeder on the post) is the male.
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This is the first time since 2019 that Lessons and Carols, a Christmas Eve tradition at Rockefeller Chapel, has been held in person. I remember in 2020 and 2021, it was streamed. This year it was both in person and streamed. I attended, but within a few days had developed my first bout with COVID-19. I held out almost three years.
Rockefeller is always an experience. The snow was a great touch.
I love that the children don’t have to make or buy costumes to be farmyard animals. These days they can wear pajamas. My favorite was the Holstein cow (possibly an anachronism).
Normally I’d have taken a couple of Amtrak trains to Pennsylvania for Christmas, but 2020 isn’t normal so here I am in Chicago. Normally if I were in Chicago I’d attend Lessons and Carols for Christmas Eve at Rockefeller Chapel on the University of Chicago campus. But it’s 2020, so here we are. I lit my own candle.
During the annual Black Friday shopping event, Americans spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need and that don’t make them happy or happier, just poorer and unsatisfied. Then, like Charlie Brown, they wonder what happened to the spirit of Christmas.Diane Schirf
If I remember right, I snagged it in the floral department of the Hyde Park Treasure Island.
A friend told me about getting a Christmas tree this year, and I started thinking about how, very early in my life on my own, I put up lights, sprayed “snow” on my windows, and put up a few decorations along with cards, but that lasted only a season or two. I couldn’t tell you then why I stopped, or when I started trying to ignore Christmas, trying to turn it into nothing more than a mid-winter respite from work.
I think now that decorating made me feel lonely. It couldn’t bring my mother back; it couldn’t bring my father’s vitality back; it couldn’t transport me back to my family life; and it couldn’t be a substitute for a family. “You can’t go home again.”
Some of my favorite Christmas decorations were a plastic Santa in a chimney (going down, as his bag was full), a tiny Nativity scene that went on top of the skirt under the tree, and a string of green bells we hung between the living room and extra room. There were others, but even now my memories are fading.
For me as a child, these decorations, along with the snows that we usually had, symbolized the specialness of the season. At night, with the lights off and the colored tree lights on, I felt that the trailer looked as warm, comfortable, and cozy as any home, more so than at any other time of the year. It was truly a magical transformation.
One year at the public library there was a caroling event. With snow on the ground and a few flurries in the air, voices raised in song, and little lights all around, I felt more of the Christmas spirit then than I ever have — that the world is a beautiful place, and that all really was right with it. I thought then that I would be able to repeat that experience and that feeling many times, not knowing what it means to be an adult and how rare that feeling would be when I grew up.
The store displays that move native Chicagoans as part of their traditions leave me cold. To me, they have no associations with my childhood, and instead appear to me as the worst of commercialism — expensive, gaudy, overdone, the kind of thing that impresses with size and scope rather than with originality, simplicity, and meaning.
Only once have I felt like a happy child again. It was a few years ago in downtown Oak Park, in the midst of the small, quaint shops decorated with charming scenarios, where I was strolling with a friend. The stores and streets were softly lit, snow was on the ground and then in the air, and for an elusive moment the world itself seemed to be at peace with itself. I can’t describe the scene or the mood or evoke it in anyone else; I can experience it, and that only rarely and unexpectedly.
I’m tired of people who run down Christmas. As I wrote last year, you choose what Christmas, any holiday, or any occasion means to you. You can choose it to mean frequenting malls and listening to bad music, out-shopping the Joneses (or your mother-in-law), getting into debt, hating the gifts you receive (or don’t receive), and resenting half your family if you’re lucky enough to have one. You can choose to spend Christmas whining about the problem that you are part of and contribute to. You can bellyache about everything or try futilely, as I tried, to create or capture the impossible, and make yourself miserable when the magic doesn’t work.
Or, instead of stressing yourself out by trying to create joy and being crushed by the inevitable and invariable disappointment when you fail (and getting angry that no one is cooperating with your efforts), you can understand that moments of true joy, of epiphany, are unplanned and unexpected. Let them happen and savor them forever when they do.
In the meantime you can bring joy to yourself by bringing it to others — those out who have no money to spend, no one to buy for or to outdo, and no family to fight with.
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.
The moment you heard your first Christmas song this year while in a store, you probably gritted your teeth and thought, “Oh, no! Not already!” or even, “Not again!” Is it because you dislike being reminded that your Christmas shopping time is running out before it began? That you face two months of heavy traffic, crowded stores, family anxieties and squabbling, irritable tempers, the dredging of awful childhood memories, and/or soaring credit card debt? Or is it simply that you can listen to Feliz Navidad only so many times before screaming, “Make it stop! MAKE IT STOP!” Perhaps it’s a little of all these.
“Christmas is too commercial!” someone said to me many years ago. “What I want is a traditional Christmas.” I told her that it’s easy enough to forego the commercialism of Christmas and to pioneer one’s own traditions that have nothing to do with what others do and that have personal meaning. For example, if putting up a tree, real or artificial, is too much work or too stressful, why not fill the house with colourful or fragrant plants instead? If it isn’t Christmas to you without a tree, then instead of buying manufactured ornaments that have no significance at a faceless chain store, make your own (with your children if you have any). Not only will you have the satisfaction of having a unique collection of decorations, but you’ll be able to explore your creative side while engaging your kids in a family activity.
If the usual Christmas tunes you’ve heard performed by the same people over and over again have become associated with stress and anxiety or seared your nerves through decades of repetition, perhaps it’s time to expand your musical tastes at home (since you can’t avoid what the stores broadcast). For example, I have Anonymous 4’s On Yoolis Night, the Baltimore Consort’s Bright Day Star, Robin Petrie’s Victorian Christmas and Victorian Noël, Renaissance Holiday, and other assorted and uncommon collections of Christmas music you won’t hear at Target. There’s also The Soul of Christmas, with author Thomas Moore, the late Johnny Cunningham, and a group of talented Celtic performers telling stories, sharing thoughts, and singing and playing spiritual songs in a spiritual way.
I pointed this type of idea out to the “Christmas is too commercial!” individual, but by then she was focused on trying to find a relative a gift that would cost at least $80. “Maybe a designer cologne?” she suggested hopefully.
Whether you’re a devout Christian, a follower of another faith, or a committed atheist, you can appreciate that Christ (prophet, messiah, or myth) never endorsed the idea of commemorating his birth date (unknown) with spending competitions and oneupmanship or through bestowing such gifts as violent video games on 12-year-olds. A history textbook I’m reading notes that, economically and socially, shepherds were the lowest of the low, spending much of their time outside the protection of civilization. To whom were tidings of great joy brought? To whom does Jesus repeatedly compare himself? To shepherds. To the humblest members of society — to people who can’t spend $80 on a gift to impress someone. To people for whom any comfort or small luxury is a simple pleasure.
If so many of us hate the madness of the bustle, the crass commercialism, and the oneupmanship game that gift giving can become, why don’t we stop? Why don’t we listen to one of the most popular, enduring television specials — A Charlie Brown Christmas? Or the words of Jesus himself? Don’t wait for the world to stop. Be brave. Be the first. Set a new standard. Celebrate simply. And rediscover what Christmas means to you.
Last night I fell asleep while watching a British sitcom (I’d gotten less than 4 hours of sleep the night before and was sick with fatigue). When I woke up, snow was coming down, and the local PBS station was showing Ed Sullivan Christmas shows, like they did last year. Johnny Mathis was standing up in a thick white sweater singing “Sleigh Ride” (all the verses!). There was something about the combination of the snow outside, my candles that are a substitute for a fireplace, and the simplicity of the song and the presentation of it that evoked what the holidays felt like when I was a kid — the simplicity and the anticipation that comes closer to an ideal of Christmas than adults will let Christmas be.