The fact is, December is December, and I always find myself trotting around, doing errands, hunting for presents, queuing at the post office, crafting insanely complicated Christmas decorations…
And how is this differend from anyone else’s December, you’ll ask? Oh, it isn’t at all, I suppose – except that I never quite understand just where all the hours go, and my poor little blog suffers for it… Well, I expect things to go back to some kind of normalcy after Christmas. Or at least, I hope.
Meanwhile, did you know this website, devoted entirely to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?
It is a real treasure trove: there is the story itself, of course, and essays about it, and articles about Dickens and his works, and Dickens’s own essays on Christmas, and galleries of vintage illustrations, and artwork, and information about many adaptations for the screen and radio, and links…
As I said, a treasure trove if you are a fan of the book.
I am. And while cynical enough to raise an eyebrow at Scrooge’s fright-induced U turn, and to see the element of emotional blackmail, I find – every December – that I don’t mind too much being emotionally blackmailed when it comes to Christmas…
Nothing very cheerful, to tell the truth – but then, I believe it is one of the thresholds to adulthood when Christmas Eve becomes a day of memories, absences and that kind of homesicknes that isn’t quite (or isn’t necessarily) for a place…
So we close the Kipling Year with this “Christmas in India”, so full of longing and homesickness, heavy with the memories of the English Christmas, the snow, the holly and the ivy… The worst time of the year, when one’s half a world away from home, is it?
Dim dawn behind the tamerisks — the sky is saffron-yellow —
As the women in the village grind the corn,
And the parrots seek the riverside, each calling to his fellow
That the Day, the staring Easter Day, is born.
O the white dust on the highway! O the stenches in the byway!
O the clammy fog that hovers over earth!
And at Home they’re making merry ‘neath the white and scarlet berry —
What part have India’s exiles in their mirth?
Full day begind the tamarisks — the sky is blue and staring —
As the cattle crawl afield beneath the yoke,
And they bear One o’er the field-path, who is past all hope or caring,
To the ghat below the curling wreaths of smoke.
Call on Rama, going slowly, as ye bear a brother lowly —
Call on Rama — he may hear, perhaps, your voice!
With our hymn-books and our psalters we appeal to other altars,
And to-day we bid “good Christian men rejoice!”
High noon behind the tamarisks — the sun is hot above us —
As at Home the Christmas Day is breaking wan.
They will drink our healths at dinner — those who tell us how they love us,
And forget us till another year be gone!
Oh the toil that knows no breaking! Oh the Heimweh, ceaseless, aching!
Oh the black dividing Sea and alien Plain!
Youth was cheap — wherefore we sold it.
Gold was good — we hoped to hold it,
And to-day we know the fulness of our gain!
Grey dusk behind the tamarisks — the parrots fly together —
As the sun is sinking slowly over Home;
And his last ray seems to mock us shackled in a lifelong tether.
That drags us back howe’er so far we roam.
Hard her service, poor her payment — she in ancient, tattered raiment —
India, she the grim Stepmother of our kind.
If a year of life be lent her, if her temple’s shrine we enter,
The door is shut — we may not look behind.
Black night behind the tamarisks — the owls begin their chorus —
As the conches from the temple scream and bray.
With the fruitless years behind us and the hopeless years before us,
Let us honor, O my brother, Christmas Day!
Call a truce, then, to our labours — let us feast with friends and neighbours,
And be merry as the custom of our caste;
For, if “faint and forced the laughter,” and if sadness follow after,
We are richer by one mocking Christmas past.
We have something like this in Italy too: Guido Gozzano, a young poet with weak lungs, spent a year traveling the East, in hope that a warmer climate would help him. It didn’t, in the long term – but this is why he spent Christmas 1912 in a solitary bungalow in Ceylon. A keen naturalist, poor Guido does his best to concentrate on the luxuriant beauty of his borrowed garden and the small kindnesses of his native servants, and not to think too much of home… until he hears the bells from the chapel across the valley, ringing for Christmas morning. And then the dam he so carefully built for himself breaks – because bells ring much the same at every latitude – and oh, how he would change all the queenly orchids in Ceylon for a glimpse of the snow and holly at home!
I’m sure he and Kipling would have had much to say to each other.
And, wherever you are – whether you are where you want to be or not – have a sweet Christmas Eve.
Here is an interesting article on the subject, written by BBC History Extra’s Mark Stoyle.
And at the end, you will find links to more Christmas-related articles.
Yes well, by now it is the middle of December again, but the fact remains.
And I love December – I really do, but all the same I must admit that writing-wise it is a downright dreadful time. You know how it is. Work crowds, because it seems They cannot live unless you give them one more translation, one more piece of editing, one more whatsit before Christmas. And then there are Christmas preparations – which we take very seriously – and shopping trips to town, and Christmas concerts, and Dickens and Tchaikowskij, and then guests begin to arrive…
And yes, it is partly my fault for embarking every year on ludicrously intricate decorating projects, stubbornly baking my own lebkucken cookies and Christmas pudding, trimming two large trees… but the thing is, writing time is in short supply.
And if the shortage weren’t enough, Christmassy ideas keep hitting me smack in the eye: it’s not as if I hadn’t plenty of projects going and deadlines looming, and yet, what do you think I do when I can snatch an hour? Work on my new play? Tweak my almost-completed three-act thing? Make up lines for my opera libretto?
But no – not on my life: there is this little new play set around Christmas Eve, and then, late at night, while I cut and pasted cardboard ornaments for the tree, a notion for a short story blossomed out of an old play, and how can one disregard a new notion for a short story?
And last night, while dining out with friends, a casual piece of conversation sparked off something like a very wintery ghost story – and I just had to sit up very, very late jotting down at least a shadow of an outline…
Which is why I’m hard put not to laugh whenever someone wonders where I find ideas to write, and why I have learned, over the years, to give up December writing-wise, and roll with the cinnamon-scented current. December is December, after all, and another January will be here all too soon.