As I write this, it is late on the evening of December 7 and somehow things are slightly off. The average New Yorker seems not to have the sense that it is Christmas time. Not that the merchants of Manhattan haven't done their parts to pound it into the heads of consumers that December 25 creeps ever nearer; they've had decorations up since just after Labor Day. Yet, on my street, a fairly well-kept section of Chelsea, there is nary a twinkling light, not a bit of greenery or tinsel to be seen whereas usually by this date the block is aglow. Perhaps it can be attributed to the unusually warm winter we've had so far (we just completed a string of days with high's in the 60's!). Whatever the cause, however, the average New Yorker has yet, it seems, to get caught up in the holiday spirit and that's a shame.
I wonder what it is about winter and Christmas, anyway. I was privvy to a discussion recently in which it was pointed out, by someone who seemed to know, that the original Christmas could not have taken place in December, as there were shepherds watching o'er their flocks by night and that is only done in the spring. It doesn't really bother me that a December date is perhaps not the most accurate one that could have been selected for this commemoration but I was a little thrown to realize just how under-schooled I am in the area of early Middle Eastern shepherding practices. One more thing to add to the list of things I must some day bone up on. I'll place it right after Marlowe and just before Milton.
My eavesdropping continued as another participant in the abovementioned conversation pointed out that the early Christians basically co-opted the ancient celebration of the Winter Solstice and made it their own. It made me wonder, with some dread, if, on some distant day, our descendents might not miss out on the joy, the exhilaration, that we associate with, say, National Idaho Potato Week. We can only hope it doesn't come to that.
How strange it must feel to spend Christmas in the southern hemisphere. I once asked an Aussie I'd occasioned to meet if Christmas in the Land Down Under carried with it the same sort of imagery that it does here up North...Santa in a suit trimmed with fur, sleighbells, snowmen, a roaring fire, Bing and a hundred other crooners pining for a heavy snowfall. I mean, let's face it, if you call Sydney home and you're dreaming of a white Christmas, you're really dreaming.
He informed me that yes, they do associate all those things with Christmas and upon further thought, I decided that maybe that's not so strange. After all, what could be better on a hot summer's Christmas day than visions of a sleigh ride in the snow? We all dream of things at Christmastime that may be slightly out of reach. For some of us, it's an expensive sports car or a big-screen television. For others, the dreams are simpler... clothes with no holes, a hearty meal and a warm place to sleep. I hope all who read this have the happiest of holidays and the healthiest of new years.
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