Yuletide Thoughts

December already?  How?  This morning the car door was frozen shut and I actually had to put on a jacket when we went out, which is rare for me.  Just like that, the festive season is here once again.

Like many others I suppose, ours is a house somewhat divided.  My husband has been growling about Christmas since around mid-November, to the point where I asked him the other night after another outburst at a Christmas commercial, “Are you really hating on Christmas, or are you doing it to be funny?”  He looked at me for a moment and then said evenly, “I’m not doing it to be funny…”  Oops!  I know that Sem doesn’t actually hate Christmas.  It’s just not a big event for him, so the hype that begins pretty much the day after Halloween has worn a bit thin for him by now.

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I’m in full agreement that holiday music, merchandise, sales, ads, TV shows and whatever else should not appear until December, but at the same time, I like the holiday season and I think it deserves more than just one or two days of celebration.  While I don’t start blasting Christmas music on December 1st (I daren’t!), I do enjoy it – a lot, in fact.  Some of my fondest memories are of singing in choirs at this time of year, performing both the sacred and secular music of the season.  My family and many of my friends celebrate Christmas, and I have dear friends who celebrate Hanukkah; for other friends, winter Solstice takes precedence, and a handful observe a combination of all three.  I don’t know if any of my friends celebrate Kwanzaa; no one has ever mentioned it.  If they do, I’d love to know more about it.  The more holidays we can pack into the waning year, the better, in my opinion!

But there’s more to my fondness for this time of year, which has nothing to do with family gatherings or gifts or decorations or music.  It is the actual season itself that creates this feeling in my heart.

In some ways I think we grow up too quickly.  We stop noticing things as we get bogged down in adulthood by all the holiday expectations, losing the wonder of this time of year.  I don’t mean the childhood belief in Santa or the soul’s adoration in worship or all the sort of mystical and magical things that many of these winter holidays prompt within us.  Those are lovely, too, but I mean something older and more enduring.  When I tune out the Christmas ads and ignore the full-throated screamfests of our terrible upstairs neighbors, when I try not to focus on the many health issues and worries we have, I can, if I try hard enough, feel the peace and stillness that this time of year brings.  This old Earth does her thing, and there is an ancient, quiet beauty in it.

What is most noticeable to me during these weeks, when I pay attention, is that there’s something special about the quality of the light.  It isn’t merely that we only have a handful of daylight hours in the dark months, it’s that the light we do get, is exceptional.  Oh, there’s a lot to be said for the tinge of hope that tints the springtime sky, the dazzling joy of the long, deep summer sunshine, and the crisp, flat, cool autumn light, but winter… winter in these northern latitudes is special.  Shadows deepen while the sun traverses a low arc, and its rays pick out details like no other time of year.  Each season’s light has a feeling, I think:  spring promise, summer growth, autumn harvest…  then along comes winter and it positively glows.  In between the cloudy, stormy, and rainy days, the rare and lovely bright spells of winter sunshine are more captivating to me than all the other times of year.  Some afternoons it seems like the sun begins to wane almost before it has fully risen, and the particular, peculiar light brings a hush to the land and a certain tranquility which settles into my heart.  There is peace and there is wistfulness, and memories that pile up like gifts beneath a softly lit Christmas tree.

I have mentioned before (last year’s December column, in fact) that this is a difficult time of year, for me.  We lost my father during this time, thirty Christmases ago.  He survived into the new year, but only just.  A specific day in this month always takes my breath away with remembered horror and fear and sadness, and grief that rises again to the surface each year.  But there is also joy and love, because in the midst of tragic memories I recall some of the best things to happen in my life, too.

On the day of my father’s funeral all those years ago, I learned that my best friend was pregnant with a wee one who became the daughter of my heart.  The next year her soft baby blanket caught my tears as I endured my first Christmas without my Papa; holding that small, warm bundle close to me somehow gave me comfort (thank you, Stephanie!).  A few years later her little brother arrived, just before Christmas, and my heart expanded further to hold another much-loved child, not my own, but my heart’s own (hi, Jeffrey!).  How glad I was to share in their Christmases in the years that followed, to see their excitement and to watch them grow.  Now they are building their own lives at nearly opposite ends of the East Coast, all grown up and an ocean away from me but still so very, very dear.  Those two sweethearts saved Christmas for me, in the early years when otherwise all I would have felt was an aching sadness.  How can you stay fully sad when little ones with sparkling eyes and flushed cheeks tell you in all excited seriousness that they DID see Santa’s sleigh up there in the sky, they really, really DID!

Photo credit: Stephanie.

As this year winds down, I must decide once again how to feel about Christmas.  Sad, and missing people who mean so much to me?  Frustrated at all the hype?  Or happy that I am here with my Sem, who means more to me than life itself and who inexplicably still loves me as fiercely and truly as I love him?  Christmastime is bound up with past joys and sorrows, but in the end it is not so hard to decide.  I choose happiness; I choose light.  I am as good at tuning out the Christmas commercials as I am at taking in all the festive decorations and lights around the town, enjoying their color and sparkle.  Last week Santa and his sleigh were pulled through the streets of Wick (by a tractor – we are, after all, in farming country), and I ran to the window like an excited child when I realized why Christmas music was echoing through the streets.  In spite of the grumbles of my lovable SemGrinch, I will hold on to my inner Christmas spirit, even through difficult days when it is fleeting, much like the winter sun.

Perhaps the thing that makes this brief winter light so beautiful is the way it glimmers while nature (in this hemisphere) holds its breath; while things burrow in the deep earth, and the cold makes us draw closer to each other, seeking both physical and emotional warmth.  Maybe the radiance is so striking because the last glimpses of the sun highlight the waning of the year, and of all the years, picking out details we never noticed before.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who looks back during this time, and just like the low shafts of winter sun reveal details we might not normally see, my heart seeks out one shimmering memory after another, spotlighting them for a brief moment until they recede again into the shadowy past.  Some shine through tears while others sparkle with delight, and each one makes up this life of mine.  I am grateful for a season that gently but insistently slows my thoughts down and fills my heart with remembrances of the many beloved people who have graced my path; some for only a time, and others who continue to fill my life.

Whether you celebrate a holiday or you don’t, I wish you a beautiful season, and send you love from the windswept Highlands.

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Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands, sharing life with her husband, a Highlander she stumbled across purely by chance on a blog site. They own a small business restoring and selling vintage fountain pens, which allows Deb to set her own schedule and have time for photography, writing and spontaneous car rides in the countryside. She is grateful to the readers of ANC for accepting her into the North State fold.
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28 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Oh Deb, such beautiful writing. You have a joyful heart. You used the word radiance. That’s the word that reminds me of our 15 Christmases in Alaska. People ask, “Wasn’t it awfully dark?” Well, no, it wasn’t. It was much like the line in “The Night Before Christmas:” “The moon on the crest of the new-fallen snow gave the luster of mid-day to objects below.” It was never really dark; it was luminous. Happy, merry, joyful everything right back at you.

  2. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    Poetry, poetry, poetry. This is beautiful and clearly from the heart and I heart it so much. I also heart these photos that prove every word you’re saying.

    I love this time of year too, with all its flaws and craziness, for the same reasons. For us in Northern California, this winter is a break from the crippling heat and horrific smoke and the terrible burns and I welcome the slow, cold, wet days as a salve. We’ve earned some peace around here. Your words help remind me of the goodness that can be had and felt and this year I have an abundance of gratitude.

    Merry everything to you and Sem too. MWAH!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Matt!

      You’ve all definitely earned some peace, and I hope the slow, cold, wet days will bring much-needed relief and calm.

      MWAH to you, too!

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      Matt, I understand that we have you to thank for bringing Deb into the ANC fold. How did you to cross paths?

      • Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

        I “met” Deb on the blogging site LiveJournal a few years back, through our mutual friend Barbara Rice (well known to us at A News Café). I saw Deb’s comments on Barbara’s blog and instantly fell in love with her style, humor and wonderful way with words and began following Deb’s blog myself. The friendship that has grown from those early days has become one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things ever. We’ve been thick as thieves for some time now!

        And actually, it was Barbara Rice who suggested Deb join the ANC family, a notion I enthusiastically supported. Deb has clearly been a great fit for our community and I applaud Barbara’s good eye in bringing her into the fold!

        • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

          My hat’s off to Barbara, then. The same Barbara who once wrote to an ANC troll, “And the horse you rode in on.” Talk about a way with words!

          • Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

            Aw shucks, thanks.

            I owe it all to my late mother, who wrote short stories for (I am not making this up) a magazine called Ranch Romance. I distinctly remember a line from one of her stories about a raven-haired beauty who surveyed the motley crowd of cowboys in a saloon and thought to herself, “Damn you all.”

            This was SALTY in the 1950s.

        • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

          I’ll always be so grateful to Barbara for putting my name in the hat (or is it in the ring?), and to Matt for cheering on the idea! I have the most awesome friends!

  3. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Joy and sadness seem so intertwined at this time of the year. As time moves on, I notice that more and more, I feel the loss of family and friends gone from my life, while giving thanks for those still here.

    This was a lovely piece of writing, Deb.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I’m starting to feel myself shifting through the generations, as in, I’m no longer the youngest, second youngest, or even third youngest. Nope, I’m sort of right there in the middle, heading towards the ‘older’ generation, and that generation-shift is a strange sort of slide. I am glad, like you, for those still here… while missing far too many who no longer are.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the piece, Hal. Thank you for telling me.

  4. Avatar Cathy Stone says:

    Sheer poetry! The holiday season does seem to be a mixture of feelings and memories that can be overwhelming if we let it. Your description of the light of winter is so beautiful; I will look more closely from now on and slow down to enjoy it.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Cathy :-). And I hope you find some beautiful sights (and sounds, smells and tastes too, why not?) to enjoy this season!

  5. Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

    Ahhh, Deb . . . your writing echos my heart. What a beautiful piece. But the photography! Oh, my heavens . . . what an artist’s eye you have. Especially breathtaking was the shot of the winter roofs at sunset . . . or was it sunrise. Thank you for opening our eyes and our hearts with your observations.
    BTW . . . I tried to get oat groats to you by Christmas. Alas and alack (the twins) . . . the three vendors where I have always been able to find them, are all out!! How dare they!!!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Adrienne! I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece and the photos. The winter roofs at sunset… that would have been taken at around 3:30pm, if memory serves. That was in our former village, and I would have taken it on the walk home from the shops.

      You are lovely to have wanted to send oat groats to me, what a kind thought! Doesn’t it figure that just when you’re looking for them, they disappear? 🙂

  6. Avatar CODY says:

    That second photo is a great photo! Thank you for posting…

  7. Avatar sue says:

    A beautiful writing and most appropriate as we near the Winter Solstice. Thank You!

  8. Oh, dear Deb. Others beat me to it to describe this work at poetry, which it is. Just beautiful. And the photos are exquisite, as always.

    Thank you, Deb, for your gift of your writing on ANC. I’m so glad you’re here. I wish you and your Sem a peaceful, lovely holiday.

    xo d

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Doni! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

      And thank you for having me here. I love writing for ANC, and getting to know readers in the ANC family. Wishing you a beautiful holiday and a peaceful season. xo

  9. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    I’ve run out of Reply to that thread. This is to Barbara. Adventure House apparently still has some copies of Ranch Romances.

  10. Avatar Eleanor Townsend says:

    So often when I read your posts, Deb, I am unable to immediately respond. I have to think through all the issues I ‘recognize’. Yes, we grow up too fast and, it seems to me, too fast to actually be ‘grown up’ and to have the sense to use all we learned – or could have learned, had we only known – to put that into best use for our lives. Reflections on those single moments that for some reason stay with us forever when others don’t, moments that never seemed particularly important, but there they remain, and it is at Christmas tha, for me they most clearly present themselves.
    I wish myself no news over Christmas – hah – but the ability to absorb the beauty and wonder all around, that we are fortunate to experience through the changing seasons, and especially now, this year.
    Peace and goodwill to you and Sem.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I don’t know if I will ever truly be a ‘grown up’ in the sense of being wise, measured, and practical in all my dealings… I try, but then I lapse and don’t use what I have learned. Maybe the goal is to at least keep trying!

      What a lovely Christmas wish you have envisioned. I shall wish it for you, too, and send along peace and goodwill as well.

  11. Terry Turner Terry Turner says:

    So beautifully moving, Deb, and so insightful. Thank you for sharing such a heart-touching column.

    And your photos are spectacular. In spite of the fact that my favorite thing is tropical beaches, your photos make me want to go to Scotland in the winter. Wow! That is some Great photography! Well Done.

    Merry Happy Everything to you and yours, too!

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thanks Terry, I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece and the photos! Thank you for telling me. Scotland in winter is dark, cold, and somewhat magical (but often dreary, wet, and long!) so if tropical beaches are your favorite thing, I’d say just keep enjoying Scotland-in-winter vicariously here in my column 😉