Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Making sense of Christmas

I will miss Joe Cocker, although I was never a huge fan. He sang what I believe are definitive versions of two songs that serve to remind us, or me at least, of the point -- counterpoint found in the warmth of the season and the loneliness of those who feel they're on the outside looking in and, sometimes, of those who only seem to be on the inside. Cocker's performance of With A Little Help From My Friends at Woodstock always seemed to me to be more what the song was really about than the Beatles' ever quite managed. Several Christmases in my more distant past have been celebrated less with family and more with a little help from my friends. Then, when Cocker sang A Bird on the Wire he captured, at least for me, the challenge many of us face, particularly at Christmas: that of fitting in and getting along. That challenge can be difficult during the most relaxed times of year but is often made more challenging during this "friendly, festive" (stressful) season. (Think about the movies Home Alone or It's a Wonderful Life.") Thanks, Joe, for providing a voice for those who realize that the happiest of times can be but a brief, sour, note away from the blues and that feeling the blues can be the way to feel better.

an angel overseeing Christmas
an angel overseeing Christmas
Photo by J. Harrington

As one musical legend leads to another, this morning I made a fascinating discovery. I never knew that Johnny Cash had recorded not one, but several Christmas albums. So has Willie Nelson. I now have something else to check out over the next year to see if we (I?) need one or more of these previously undiscovered treasures. Christmas, Yule, Solstice are feasts for all of the senses of those of us lucky enough to be able to enjoy them. There's the sound of Christmas music, and sleigh bells on the roof, and the crinkling of presents being unwrapped to the peals of children's laughter. There's the smell of Christmas cookies and trees and, sometimes, fresh snow and wood smoke. There's the sight of Christmas lights and holly decorations and candles. There's the taste of egg nog and Christmas candies and a goose or ham or roast beast for Christmas dinner. Last, and certainly far from least, there's the feeling of warmth coming in from the cold, of warmth being surrounded by caring family and friends, including the exuberant warmth of four-legged friends. If you're enjoying this at Christmas, after you realize how lucky we are, take a moment to reflect on those birds who haven't been as privileged as we have and think about what we can do next year to make Christmas better for all of us birds.

Good King Wenceslas

By John Mason Neale 

Good King Wenceslas look’d out,
    On the Feast of Stephen;
When the snow lay round about,
    Deep, and crisp, and even:
Brightly shone the moon that night,
    Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
    Gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither page and stand by me,
    If thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he?
    Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence.
    Underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence,
    By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh,and bring me wine,
    Bring me pine-logs hither:
Thouand I will see him dine,
    When we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went,
    Forth they went together;
Through the rudewind’s wild lament,
    And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now,
    And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know now how,
    I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page;
    Tread thou in them boldly;
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
    Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod,
    Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
    Which the Saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
    Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
    Shall yourselves find blessing.

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