Christmas five years ago, a few months after my husband and I had moved to Traverse City, we walked through Central neighborhood at night, awestruck as children at the snow falling like fairy dust through the streetlights. Now THIS is Christmas, we told each other. The whole 19th-century Clement Moore romance — Santa with his sleigh and the "moon on the crest of the new-fallen snow!"
I have a sister who lives in Houston. How can you have Christmas there? But of course you can. This poem by Timothy Steele takes place in L.A. He's stringing his Christmas lights. His neighbors of various religious persuasions stroll by to offer suggestions and praise. They're all conscious of the time of year.
The days have shrunk to their shortest — we need to light our small lights to remind us that the big light will be returning. It's a great religious celebration; it's a great celebration, in general, in the middle of "bleak mid-winter" as Christina Rosetti put it in her own fine poem. We get to see the cold and dark through a window of warmth and light. If we're one of the fortunate ones.
In the last stanza of this poem, Steele writes, "while all changes, nothing's lost." We may lose certain cultural traditions, maybe even our own religious convictions have changed, but we don't lose the turning of the seasons, the endings and beginnings.
Everything's different. Our country is radically different from when Clement Moore wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in 1822. But everything's the same.
At the end of T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" are these lines: We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started /And know the place for the first time."