What Christmas Is

Welcome, old aspirations, glittering creatures of an ardent fancy, to your shelter underneath the holly!  We know you, and have not outlived you yet.  Welcome, old projects and old loves, however fleeting, to your nooks among the steadier lights that burn around us.  Welcome, all that was ever real to our hearts; and for the earnestness that made you real […].  Welcome, everything!  Welcome, alike what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly, to your places round the Christmas fire, where what is sits openhearted!


~ Charles Dickens, “What Christmas Is As We Grow Older”


Marcel Rieder, 1898

December Notes

The backyard is one white sheet

Where we read in the bird tracks


The songs we hear.  Delicate

Sparrow, heavier cardinal,


Filigree threads of chickadee.

And wing patterns where one flew


Low, then up and away, gone

To the woods but calling out


Clearly its bright epigrams.

More snow promised for tonight.


The postal van is stalled

In the road again, the mail


Will be late and any good news

Will reach us by hand.


~ Nancy McCleery


“Letter Boxes of the Kerava Riding School, Finland” by Annelis

A Winter Idyl

The sun that brief December day

Rose cheerless over hills of gray,

And, darkly circled, gave at noon

A sadder light than waning moon.

Slow tracing down the thickening sky

Its mute and ominous prophecy,

A portent seeming less than threat,

It sank from sight before it set.

A chill no coat, however stout,

Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,

A hard, dull bitterness of cold,

That checked, mid-vein, the circling race

Of life-blood in the sharpened face,

The coming of the snow-storm told.

The wind blew east; we heard the roar

Of Ocean on his wintry shore,

And felt the strong pulse throbbing there

Beat with low rhythm our inland air.


~ From “Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl” by John Greenleaf Whittier, born on this day in 1807


“The Skater” by Prince Pierre Troubetskoy, 1895


Letters swallow themselves in seconds.

Notes friends tied to the doorknob,

transparent scarlet paper,

sizzle like moth wings,

marry the air.


So much of any year is flammable,

lists of vegetables, partial poems.

Orange swirling flame of days,

so little is a stone.


Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,

an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.

I begin again with the smallest numbers.


Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,

only the things I didn’t do

crackle after the blazing dies.


                         ~ Naomi Shihab Nye


Karl Becker, 1857

Just as a dancer, turning and turning,

may fill the dusty light with the soft swirl

of her flying skirts, our weeping willow—

now old and broken, creaking in the breeze—

turns slowly, slowly in the winter sun,

sweeping the rusty roof of the barn

with the pale blue lacework of her shadow.


                        ~ Ted Kooser


Ballerina Carlotta Grisi (1819 – 1899) in the Dance of the Shadow

Spiked sun.  The Hudson’s

Whittled down by ice.

I hear the bone dice

Of blown gravel clicking.  Bone-

pale, the recent snow

Fastens like fur to the river.

Standstill.  We were leaving to deliver

Christmas presents when the tire blew

Last year.  Above the dead valves pines pared

Down by a storm stood, limbs bared…

I want you.


                          ~ Louise Glück


“Snow-Capped River” by George Bellows, 1911


I go to the mountain side

of the house to cut saplings,

and clear a view to snow

on the mountain.  But when I look up,

saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in

the uppermost branches.

I don’t cut that one.

I don’t cut the others either.

Suddenly, in every tree,

an unseen nest

where a mountain

would be.


~ Tess Gallagher


Kofler Jürgen

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