In the Bleak Midwinter

My dad loved Christmas. He even raised poinsettias. I believe they were the only plants he ever raised. Whatever time he could squeeze from life, he would take us around to wonder at vistas of lights, and to buy a thick and symmetrical tree. The presents he gave us were always thoughtful. Then he died, late one Christmas night long ago.

Perhaps his dying on Christmas is the reason my emotions reach deepest during each December, and why I have become something of an expert at minimizing the stress the season commonly delivers.

In case some advice might help writers and other driven and sensitive folks, I’ll note a few of the attitudes I find most helpful.

Most importantly, we ought to give up any idea of accomplishing much of anything during this month. Sure we can continue working, but without expectations. Because not only will shopping and entertaining or being entertained add to our normal workload, but old friends may drop in, home for the holidays or prompted by high or low spirits. If we let go of expectations and give the season over to appreciation of the best of what it can offer, by year’s end we might feel rejuvenated rather than wrung out.

Those of us who are physically capable ought to walk a lot, especially if we live in blizzard-free regions. Not only can walking relax us and burn calories, allowing us to feast with more abandon and to consume more seasonal goodies, it can also free us from traffic jams. Ever since I got stuck for an hour trying to leave a parking lot, I conclude my gift shopping with a morning’s walk to and from a mall about a mile away. The gifts I buy that day are small and light.

I begin shopping early by getting my groceries at Target. Not so much variety but who needs 500 brands of tomato sauce. And while there, I take a few minutes, wander away from the grocery section and browse an aisle or two for gifts.

Though I’m skeptical about what we call progress, shopping online is a treat. Let the UPS guy do the driving and parking. And if we care to do a bit for charity in the process, we can start from a site like Escrip, one portal to which you can find at Perelandra College (where I happen to teach).

And Christmas songs can shift our perspective from any kind of woes toward more universal themes, if we go for the old hymn-like sort. Even if we’re not inclined toward the spiritual in general or toward Christianity in particular, the best of them are mellow and uplifting. My current favorites are The Roches version of “Unto Us A Child is Born” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Oh Holy Night”. Both available on Itunes.

And I’ll take the liberty of recommending my favorite Christmas poems, T.S. Elliot’s Journey of the Magi and In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti, which has also been set to music. James Taylor did a lovely version.

If I can get an evening alone during the week before Christmas, I’ll light a fire and spend a couple hours in the living room, avoiding my computer and phone while I listen to whole of Handel’s “Messiah”.

And, since I’m both driven and forgetful, each day I remind myself not to expect to accomplish anything except to enjoy the season and embrace some gentle thoughts and good will.

Those employed (or self-employed) by a Scrooge should tell him or her to lighten up for a few weeks. If you get fired, move on.

And if you’re called to create a blog post, don’t kill a bunch of time revising.

Bless you, one and all,  Ken

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