The Art of Christmas—It’s How We Remember

The Art of Christmas—It’s How We Remember

Christmas time is creative time. For centuries the birth of the Christ child was the main subject of art in all its forms. Not only were people eager to celebrate their religious beliefs, they also wanted to step away from the drudgery of work and the harshness of winter. Christmas might have been lighted by candles and fires centuries ago, but even today the art of Christmas breaks through the darkness and repetitiveness of life, filling us humans with wonder and giving us pleasure. The art of Christmas, no matter what your faith or spiritual life, is how we remember the light of the world, the lift in our hearts, the reason for love and goodness.

Who hasn’t written a Christmas verse or created a Christmas joke. At this time of year shops and stores are teeming with creative endeavors to remember the season: poetry books, novels and plays; ceramics adorned with the color and images of the season. Children make gingerbread houses or fold paper into decorative chains. Mothers and fathers bake fantasies–cookies and breads, cakes and bars. There’s the busy provider who even finds time to break away from work to hang sparkling lights everywhere and to bring home an evergreen tree or maybe a sled to make snow enjoyable. It’s all the art of Christmas.

Here are a few of my standouts–art that brings tears to my eyes, underlining not only the beauty of the season, but the love and creativity in the hearts and minds of the artists.

In 1978 English author Raymond Briggs wrote and illustrated THE SNOWMAN which became a favorite adventure story for the holiday season. In 1982 the book became an animated film. Millennials  and their parents all hold visions of James flying with the snowman as the music by Howard Blake makes your heart soar. See it here.

We’re walking in the air
We’re floating in the moonlit sky
The people far below are sleeping as we fly

I’m holding very tight
I’m riding in the midnight blue
I’m finding I can fly so high above with you

Far across the world
The villages go by like dreams
The rivers and the hills
The forests and the streams

Children gaze open mouth
Taken by surprise
Nobody down below believes their eyes

We’re surffing in the air
We’re swimming in the frozen sky
We’re drifting over icy
Mountain floating by

Suddenly swooping low on an ocean deep
Arousing of a mighty monster from its sleep

We’re walking in the air
We’re floating in the midnight sky
And everyone who sees us greets us as we fly.

The Night Before Christmas, The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol, The Grinch Stole Christmas, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are all memorable stories for the season.

The Art of Christmas—It’s How We Remember

A favorite of mine is A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. You can watch a short film interpretation of the story here. The following is the last page of the story:

Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang “Cherry Ripe,” and another uncle sang “Drake’s Drum.” It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

At this time of year, music is heard everywhere and for each of us, certain songs or carols are sweetly-sharp reminders of who we loved and maybe who we’ve lost. The Gian Carlo Menotti opera Amahl and the Night Visitors is a remembrance of my mother. And so is the song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. There are tears when I hear:

Through the years we all will be together
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Though we hold dear all these examples of the art of Christmas–it’s the hug from a grandchild, the kiss from a spouse, the kind phone call from an adult child who won’t be physically present and the thoughtful gifts, no matter what they are, that truly are the art of Christmas. So when snow flakes begin to fall in your hair or lights from a tree shine in your daughter’s eyes or you hear the carols or the bells or the quiet darkness seeks you out–hold them close, remember them–for they light up our world that needs love and care, that needs more than ever a merry little Christmas.

The Art of Christmas—It’s How We Remember

The artist has placed the stable scene under a starry night.

Thanks to Pinterest and Google Images

The Art of Christmas—It’s How We Remember

Charming and meaningful.

A Christmas Train of Memories

A Christmas Train of Memories

A train horn, the distant music coming back to me again.

I miss my mom who died in March. It’s Christmas. And today I heard the familiar lyrics:

Through the years, We all will be together,

If the Fates allow.

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.

And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

But the Fates can’t allow things eternally. So the tears started. Yes, this is the time of year when one memory just starts a train of memories.

I’ve cried quietly during that carol for the last five years, because Mom’s dementia was worsening and though my memories were palpable and deep, hers were not. Sometimes she could pull out a Christmas memory, but most times—no way.

But if anyone created ceremony and joy in our childhood days, it was Mom. She wove a tapestry of colorful Christmas threads that no one could ever undo:

1. Who could forget the annual dark-and-cold-morning drive to Marshall Field & Company—the  landmark store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The winter sun would be barely lighting the lake as we hurried from the parking garage to the warmth of the store. Already a crowd was forming–crazy, Christmas-loving folks like us. Inside we all boarded the elevator to the 7th floor to enjoy breakfast in the Walnut Room. Lines of sleepy children and smiling parents and grandparents crowded the lobby waiting for a table near or right under “the tree.” Each year this two-story wonder was decorated more exquisitely or lavishly then the year before. Fairies and whimsical animals, Santa and his elves, gold and scarlet packages—all shine and glimmer and magic. There was hot chocolate as thick and creamy as that served on THE POLAR EXPRESS and we could take the glass mugs home for a keepsake.    (See photo below.)

2. In the early years, we then stood in line to see Santa. I was always fearful of the man in the beard, but he never failed to bring me my heart’s desire. A baby doll one year, a more grownup doll the next. Not a Barbie. But a doll I named Barbara Jo and when I took off her red and white checked dress, mom had sewn her a tiny bra to cover her anatomically correct body!

3. Back home, there was always a Christmas tree—but before it graced our living room there was always the Christmas tree argument. My brothers wanted the typical tree—a Balsam fir. It looked scraggly to me. One year we got a Scotch pine and from then on, I was hooked. Its long needles made the tree round and solid; once decorated it filled our simple home with elegance. My brothers weren’t swayed. Mom’s firm yet gentle voice created a compromise—we would alternate the variety every other year. I kept track.

4. Belief in Santa reigned supreme for many years, each older child maintaining the magic for the younger ones as long as necessary. “Did you hear it, Beth?” my older brother said coming out of his bedroom at dawn. “Last night, I heard reindeer hooves on our roof.” If I close my eyes and picture the upstairs hallway where we all stood, there’s still an exciting chill connected to those words. And then Mom going down to light the tree while we waited patiently at the top of the stairs, waited for the magic to unfold–how thrilling the Christmas morning experience always was, no matter what was or wasn’t under the tree.

5. Finally there was the music and literature—The Robert Shaw Choral Christmas carols, Amahl and the Night Visitors Opera and a recording of Dylan Thomas, that amazing Welch poet, reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales. He writes: All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen. He then tells the tale of a small fire in the warm Christmas house and the firemen who came to douse it and were asked by an aging aunt, “Would you like something to read?”

Ah, Christmas. Snow and cold and boots and sleds. Heavy coats and slippery sidewalks, bags of presents and hot chocolate. Midnight Mass in churches spilling light into the darkness. And then the cozy bed and warm covers, the Rock Island train doing its last run as I fall asleep, its familiar horn becoming a wisp of memory moving into my dreams.

I live in California now. And I suddenly realized that though there is much to love, sunshine and roses, warm breezes and tawny hills—something is missing. For me. The forlorn and lonely sound of the train horn, oddly comforting in its familiarity.

Forever in my growing-up-house in the city Chicago, and in all the Chicago suburbs where I lived and even in Des Moines, Iowa—I could fall asleep to the call of the train. I’d hear the horn and picture the train’s beam of light breaking through the darkness as it chugged along the rails.

Then just yesterday, on a four-mile California hike, suddenly there it was—a train horn, the distant music coming back to me again, calling me. Magical. Like The Polar Express.

Certainly at this time of year with ceremony and tradition predominant in our lives, the train of memories is chug-chug-chugging along. I wish you great ones. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays.

Thanks to Google Images

 Christmas Train of Memories

We could take the glass mug home. I still have two of them.

A Christmas Train of Memories

Just before Christmas, breakfast in the Walnut Room.


Christmas: A Time for Creating and Cherishing Memories

Christmas: A Time for Creating and Cherishing Memories

Each ornament can hold a memory.

If Christmas lights a spark for my grandchildren, inspires them to dream of the future and desire the shiny-new and surprising—for me, Christmas is the vehicle of memory. As soon as I open the first carton that stores my ornaments and Christmas decorations, a door to the past will open. Memories will explode from the carton that holds the stockings with my children’s names, the Jack-in-the-Box that goes under the tree, and of course, the ornaments. I’ll anticipate unwrapping the fragile blue doll given to me when I was pregnant, the ballet slippers celebrating Christine’s early love of dance, the tiny piano with Carrie’s name, and so many welcoming the new baby—Andrew, 24 years ago.

Christmas, the season of wonder, illuminates memory. A single ornament holds thoughts of the person who gifted it, the tree where it was displayed or possibly a full-blown picture of the living room that it graced in years past. Memories abound at Christmas.

And though the Christmas season pulls us in many directions with errands and duties, school events and office celebrations, we are making memories—an amazing and wonderful thing. When I find a quiet moment, I want to breathe in the scent of paperwhites, enjoy the sparkle of lights and ornaments on my tree and read Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. I’m looking back but also making new memories. What will you do to capture the essence of Christmas moments, to experience heightened joy or deep spiritual fulfillment? Wouldn’t it be amazing if all of us could once again capture elements of child-like eagerness? That would be a perfect gift.

Music certainly is part of the memories of Christmas. Do you have a carol that still chokes you up when you sing it? Did you experience the Nutcracker Ballet? If it’s a shining moment in your past, sharing it again with a young person would create a powerful memory. And there’s the selection of the Christmas tree that often creates a family experience that everyone remembers for years to come. I really wanted a Scotch Pine. No, you liked the Balsam, I remember! Each event has the power to become a shining ornament on the family tree. Each event increases the gift of love in our families. For Christmas is about love and giving, accentuates the amazing experience of family, and celebrates just out and out good times.

But when the season ends, the tree comes down and the ornaments are tucked away, we might notice a change in family members, especially children. Where before they were peering into the future, excited and bright-eyed, now we might notice they act deflated, maybe even sad or mopey. We ask why has the spark dimmed? We mumble to ourselves: We’ve had such a wonderful Christmas, why are they acting like this?

It’s truly okay. Children, all of us are forming memories. Young or old, we experience nostalgia, a feeling defined as pleasure and sadness, caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again. What a great thing, to honor our experience of Christmas by forming memories.

Ebenezer Scrooge said: “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” Each of us carries in our hearts hundreds of memories that help build our traditions. For me it’s carols sung by the Robert Shaw Choral now rerecorded on CD. It’s a music box from friends that have meant so much in my life, decorations made by my children and grandchildren and carefully wrapped and saved each year, and every dish and bowl and glass that will be on my table—gifts from my mother, aunts and grandmother.

So as you race through Target to finish a list, help your daughter pick out a gift for grandpa, rehearse a skit for the Christmas party or build a fire with family gathered round, you are building memories, carving out future Christmases in the lives of those you love. You are giving a gift that is endlessly fervent, spiritual and uplifting. It’s an unforgettable gift, various and multifaceted as snowflakes—because we form families that are vastly different and various. And how amazing and perfect that is.

This Christmas, I will hold dear all my memories of the past, yet feel once again the excitement and joy of the present—especially when looking into the eyes of my grandchildren. Because I am certain that as each of them anticipates the future, they will also be building memories. And I will be in those memories. That will truly make me happy.

This post first appeared on Christie Havey Smith’s blog  Christie is a writer, a teacher and a storyteller with a passion for the health and happiness of the human spirit. But above all, she is a mom. It is within this role that she has truly found herself.

Thanks to Google Images

Christmas: A Time for Creating and Cherishing Memories