Friday, December 9, 2016

Are any parts of the Christmas season #phenology?

Would you consider seasonal migrations (waterfowl, monarch butterflies, hummingbirds...) to be traditions? Probably not. Is it only humans that have traditions? What about the spawning times for fish? If humans are animals, and we are, then at least some animals have traditions. Tradition includes passing on customs from generation to generation. Migration, spawning, rutting season, hibernation all pass from generation to generation among the animals.

Christmas creche, St. Paul basilica
Photo by J. Harrington

Humans, as part of the Christmas story, include animals as a tradition. The angels announced to shepherds in the hills. The birth in a manger is often depicted traditionally with a donkey, cow or oxen and sheep. The wise men arrived later riding camels.

I started wondering about this because today we (the Better Half [BH] and I) did several things that seem to have become family Christmas "traditions," although they may not be carried on by the next generation. We made our Christmas trip to Birchbark Books. I don't recall how many years back that started, but it has been awhile. We also made what has become an annual stop at Ingebretsen's for pickled herring and other delicacies. I car sat due to the parking situation.

So, if the BH and I have been doing some things at Christmas for several years, but the Daughter Person and Son-in-Law don't pick up and follow the patterns, are they or are they not traditions? I remember some Christmas eves, when my father was in the Air Force during the Korean "police action," going with my mother to haggle about the price and value of Christmas trees left on the lots that would be worth nothing in the morning. That "tradition" faded when my father returned home, but it still offers some long-standing Christmas memories, including a vague recollection of trying a similar approach, much less successfully, when I was in college. So that brings up what we think of the linkage between traditions and memories. Maybe we'll explore that one day soon.

Star of the Nativity


By Joseph Brodsky


In the cold season, in a locality accustomed to heat more than
to cold, to horizontality more than to a mountain,
a child was born in a cave in order to save the world;
it blew as only in deserts in winter it blows, athwart.

To Him, all things seemed enormous: His mother’s breast, the steam
out of the ox’s nostrils, Caspar, Balthazar, Melchior—the team
of Magi, their presents heaped by the door, ajar.
He was but a dot, and a dot was the star.

Keenly, without blinking, through pallid, stray
clouds, upon the child in the manger, from far away—
from the depth of the universe, from its opposite end—the star
was looking into the cave. And that was the Father’s stare.

                                                                                    December 1987


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