On Winter: Part One

"The Two Trees", Mary Philpott, Used With Permission.

The Silmarillion is J.R.R. Tolkein’s creative masterpiece and forms the cosmology of The Lord of the Rings. In it, he describes a world–peopled by Elves and Dwarfs, but not, as of yet, men–when it, sunless, derived its light from the Light of the Two Trees of the Valinor. Such a world opens up to the imagination the possibility of a world not permeated by a depressive darkness, but of a darkness enchanted by a mythic source of light. That such a world could exist is encouragement, indeed, for us who endure the cold days and long, dark nights of winter in Western Michigan, when we almost seem engulfed in a perpetual night.

And so it was for the first time this winter that I was able to sense consciously a metaphysical connection between Tolkien’s ancient world and our own. This world of Tolkein is somehow made real each Holiday Season, when each December a luminous darkness of days is experienced in a tangible way: lights appear on Christmas trees, candles are lit, fires are kindled, and the smell of pine permeates the atmosphere of our homes. As we walk some evening through a neighborhood of snow-covered sidewalks to take in the twinkle of luminaries we notice that it has an effect on us. And when we draw close to friends and family, there really is a kind of warmth that is felt for having truly enjoyed the company of others, as if drawing near a fire to warm oneself.

Christmas Tree in Forest, Susan Jenkins, susanjenkinsart.blogspot.com, Used with Permission

This brings me to the following thoughts on how it is that we celebrate the Holiday Season (and how it might be celebrated). As one enamored by English culture, myself having had the privilege of living and studying in London, you’ll know that traditionally Christmas was celebrated for twelve days, beginning with Christmas Day (a la “The Twelve Days of Christmas”). And so this Christmas, our home kept this English tradition by celebrating “Chistmastide”. Christmas Carols were played throughout those Twelve Days, and I took a sabbatical from my work to focus on engendering relationships. My wife and I hosted five gatherings in our home. Cheese & White Wine Fondue, Scotch, micro-brews, Pizza Provencal, and Swedish Meatballs acted as festive punctuation marks during those days. My wife’s favorite dish, however, was a simple but delicious salad I created with spinach, beets, and goat cheese that I tossed in a maple-vinaigrette, also of my creation. The reds, greens, and whites of the salad made of it a sort of edible Christmas decoration (please see Salad Greens with Beets, Goat Cheese, and Maple Vinaigrette).

Perhaps the best part, however, of celebrating Christmas as a Season (as opposed to an isolated day–the 25th) was the sense of drawing from the rich soil of tradition. In fact, the way we celebrate Christmas in this country has its genesis, I understand, in the English novel  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. And so, it felt not that we were inventing a new way of celebrating the Season but rather returning to how it is intended to be celebrated. And what was the effect of all this upon the heart and soul? An added substance. A grounding. And, paradoxically, levity.

Part Two of this blog will reflect on how a celebration of the Winter Season might be perpetuated beyond the Holiday Season.

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