The time to read is any time: no apparatus, no appointment of time and place, is necessary. It is the only art which can be practised at any hour of the day or night, whenever the time and inclination comes, that is your time for reading; in joy or sorrow, health or illness. ~Holbrook Jackson
December, with cold seeping into bones and forcing pain levels ever higher. December, with snow falling in dribs and drabs, between days of sun or rain. December, when the gaudiness of Christmas outweighs the feast day’s meaning. December, when melancholy is as common as eager anticipation, when memories may hurt or please. December, when hope and despair collide most forcefully.
Christmas is close and our children are in the swing of things already, and not only because they have young children of their own. We feel a little pride and a lot of pleasure that we managed to instill a love of the season in them all, a love that is even greater than our own. Of course, our feelings at Christmas are more mixed, which is inevitable as we grow older. Our kids have flown the nest and we are just two. Then there are the loved ones we have lost, their absence felt most keenly now. Yet we try hard, to demonstrate our belief that this is truly a very special time of the year, even if we don’t deck our home in all the trappings of the modern Christmas.
I probably read less at this time of year than at any other. That’s odd when you consider that books are one of the most popular gifts at Christmas. It hasn’t always been that way. I used to read some of the Christmas classics in December, to help me to both get in the spirit of it, and to remind me of its problems. Then, too, it was something of a tradition, when our kids were small, for me to read The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C Moore, to the three of them, many times over. We had a beautiful copy, illustrated by Douglas Gorsline and published by Random House in their Pictureback® series. In fact, we still have it, and just seeing it brings back many fond memories. I think it’s an important book, too. It is everything a child needs to draw them into the world of literature.
Way, way back, before I started writing in earnest, and when I was under 13 years old, I wrote a Christmas play. It wasn’t an act of genius, and it definitely got sidetracked part of the way through. It was, however, the first hint that the written word would become extremely important to me. Why a play? Well, that wasn’t surprising, really, as my eldest brother was very deeply involved in amateur dramatics, gaining a fine reputation for it, and I would often be enlisted in helping him to learn his lines. I never had the courage to show him that one, and only, play that I wrote.
Thinking about it, all four of we siblings had an abiding love of words, both written and spoken. It was a fact which would lead to problems for the two youngest of us, as we strove to use an ever enlarging vocabulary, and good pronunciation. Our peers saw that as snobbishness, treated us as trying to be better than them. That was nonsense. In fact, we never even really considered ourselves to be better than others. We just loved words!
We had an excellent example in our father. He would often be found, sat in his armchair, reading book after book. Equally, we had the example of our mother, whose education had been severely damaged by the Second World War, and the bombing that accompanied it. She struggled all her life with both spelling and writing, and we all loved her dearly. How could we, then, ever believe that we were better than others simply because we had this love affair with words? We were truly blessed, having both ends of literacy as our foundation examples? To think like that would have meant thinking ourselves better than our mother. Unthinkable!
I, for one, will always be deeply grateful to my parents, for all that they gave us. They were always wise beyond measure and our lives were guided firmly but with a love that made us all, I hope, better people. We discovered that family was something that was desirable beyond all other things. We were taught the practicalities of life. We had fun and discipline. Yes, I mean that. Discipline is as important to a child as anything else a parent can give, providing moral boundaries with firm gentility, always tempered by that deep, abiding love. We also learnt about the world, especially the richness of nature and the beauty that can be found. I can never express adequately the gratitude I feel, and the love. My mother has gone now, and my father has severe health problems. One of my sisters has gone too, she who was next in age to myself. They are never forgotten, but the Christmas season recalls memories that can sadden or warm me.
Perhaps the most important thing that we gained from our parents was a desire to give. We each have striven, in some way or other, to give something of ourselves, and therefore share something of our parents. Whether we have succeeded or not isn’t for us to say. I can only hope that we have, and that our children have also been instilled with at least some of the wisdom of my parents. The evidence, so far, is that my three children have, indeed, been coloured by that upbringing.
When you are reaching that point in this season, when you begin to wonder whether it’s all worth the effort, I hope that you have the same strong foundations to your life, foundations that enable you to put aside the negative and to remember, and embrace, the positive.