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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

(For those who long to be home this Christmastime. A poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, 18501894)

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But ‘twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So’s we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
“All hands to loose topgallant sails,” I heard the captain call.
“By the Lord, she’ll never stand it,” our first mate Jackson, cried.
…”It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,” he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

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Abandoned-Village-merl1ncz

A bright new star appeared in the sky on December 1st. It didn’t hover above a chosen town. It just wheeled alongside the other stars. But then the other stars went out and something in our collective psyche snapped. Panic lit the riots. Riots ignited mass hysteria. Mass hysteria burned into mayhem. There’s no media or Internet anymore but people say half of America died in a week. I believe it. Our guards in the entrance tunnel hear gunfire every night.

And they hear drums. A cult took over the factory in the valley. Some members of our camp escaped the cult. We don’t repeat their stories. We have nightmares of our own. But the cult believes there are “Elder Gods” in the sky. They say that Christmas never belonged to Christ and those with false beliefs will be consumed on Christmas Day.

Tonight we decorated the tree. We hung the stockings. We read stories to the children and tucked them in bed. We have modest gifts to give and a wild turkey to cook.

But I can’t sleep. So I put the tiny, cracked porcelain Jesus in the manger and went to the entrance tunnel. The rifle is cold in my lap as I stare at the leaden curtain of the opening and listen to the drums. I’ll be here all night, waiting to see what Christmas brings.

 

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keep-calm-and-sing-christmas-songs-3( Here’s a seasonal flash fiction piece I’m posting here as a gift. Well, it’s either that or a letter from the near future. You decide. )

Invasions come in two speeds: fast and slow. Fast invasions rely on surprise and a massive use of force. Think Normandy or presidential campaigns. Slow invasions rely on stealth and subversion. The opponent doesn’t notice until it’s too late. The Kringles, as I call them, chose the latter approach.

In the halcyon age of my parents’ youth, you didn’t hear “Jingle Bells” or see so much as a strand of tinsel until December 1st. Then it was the day after Thanksgiving, a day ominously dubbed Black Friday. Then it was mid-October while the Halloween rush was still in full swing. Then September right alongside the start of the Halloween season and two decisive fronts emerged. First, national department store chains added dedicated, year-round Christmas sections. Second, dedicated Christmas stores (or, more cleverly, ’boutiques’) popped up both as brick and mortar locations and online. Soon after that, Christmas in July parties became commonplace.

Even those who did notice the expansion of Christmas thought nothing of it. Capitalism had invaded first. Steadily growing revenues and entrepreneurial efforts were to be applauded, not feared. Nobody cared that the popular hues of paint and clothing colors all came from the Christmas palette. Nobody cared that people were humming “Here Comes Santa Claus” in May, in April, in March. Easter fell with little resistance because Christianity had run its course and fruit cake still seemed fresh that early in the year. Valentine’s Day was an even easier conquest because it shared the themes of love and over spending and sweets. It even dressed in red.

The Kringles were patient and devious. It was many years before Santa Claus served as Grand Marshall in the 4th of July parades and longer still before elves wearing red and white camo marched alongside his reindeer driven sleigh on Memorial Day. Thanksgiving, of course, had belonged to them for as long as anyone could remember.

I think the worst of it all, the most terrible thing, is that nobody seems to care. We just change the ornaments on our plastic trees, swap the strings of lights on the shrubs for a different color, and wrap the next round of gifts we can’t afford. We like not having quite so many colors to choose from. (Who has time for dozens of shades of white? Snow is beautiful.) We don’t care that our delivery people all wear pointed hats and shoes. We don’t worry that the most common boys name for years has been Chris and the most common name for girls is Kristine. People say it’s just a trend. But trends don’t last decades.

How did this happen? I think the answer is right there in the lyrics and the stories. We sing our conviction that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year” and Scrooge inspires us to “try to keep it all the year.” The lights, the parties, the joy, the smiles, the gifts, the food…we adore it all. The Kringles, whoever they really are, planned their campaign well. They found a weakness and exploited it. We handed our lives over without a shot.

image_by_projectowl-d8b4evk

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( With the solstice upon us and finding that I’m feeling…well, more numb than joyful as the days count down to Christmas, I thought I would share this. )

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss-
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight-
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

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A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas BooksSo begins A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, which was published on this date in 1843. It is one of my all time favorites. A book I return to each December, reading a chapter a night for five nights. Tonight I’ll read Stave One – Marley’s Ghost.

One of the many reasons I love this story is that it mixes dark and light so well, with laughter and love winning out in the end. We need tales like this in our lives, particularly here in Connecticut in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown. It’s very easy to feel helpless and scared. It’s very easy to get cynical about our capacity to change.

But people do change. Cultures and societies do change. Laughter and love can win in the end.

In returning to this story at this particular time, I’m struck by one aspect. Ebenezer Scrooge is an isolated, socially awkward man living alone in a very large house. Disconnected from family. No friends. No faith community. He exists apart with his loneliness and pain, in denial about both, and lashing out at the world. While he doesn’t pick up a gun, he does harm others on a daily basis.

In learning about shooter Adam Lanza and his mother Nancy, it appears that they lived similarly isolated lives. By all available evidence, Adam was a deeply disturbed individual and needed more help than he received. Nancy Lanza was trying her best to raise him on her own. But, for quite some time leading up to the horrific tragedy on Friday, it was just the two of them in a big house out in the woods. Family? Broken, disconnected. Friends? No real ones have surfaced. Faith community? None identified. Other support communities? None identified.

Ebenezer Scrooge’s life changes when someone intervenes in it. In his case, it is his dead partner, Jacob Marley, who procures one last chance for Ebenezer to avoid a terrible afterlife.

Amid all of the heated debate about our gun control regulations in America and the head bobbing about how little we understand (and do for) people with mental illnesses, I hope we embrace a more fundamental point: We need to take better care of each other.

We need to look around, beyond our daily lives and our circles of family and friends.

We need to notice those who are isolated, existing apart from any clear community.

We need to reach out to them, make ourselves available, and reconnect them if we can.

In Ebenezer’s case, he gains redemption and everyone around him – family, employees, strangers – benefits from the changes in him. In the case of Adam and Nancy Lanza, it might have saved over two dozen lives.

Let us not leave the work of the living to the dead.

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TTA PressTTA Press (publishers of Interzone, Black Static, Crimewave and much, much more) has a wonderful tradition this time of year. They offer an Advent Calendar of free flash fiction stories and poems as a way of counting down the days until Christmas. The pieces are mostly by writers whose work has previously been published by TTA Press, but not all. One of my flash fiction tales on this site will be included on December 17th.

Contributors this year include: Renee Carter Hall, Roy Gray, D. F. Lewis, Bob Lock, David McGroarty, Dennis M. Lane, Dylan Fox, Ian Hunter, Darren Gallagher, Anthony Watson, Rhys Hughes, Guy Anthony DeMarco, Damien Walter Grintalis, Aliya Whiteley, and others.

You can keep up with the calendar in the Black Static news feed or in the feed for either of TTA’s other two magazines. Drop in and meet some writers you may not have read.

Happy Advent, all.

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My minister wife sent this to me because it made her think of me…. When I (jokingly) complained that I felt typecast, she told me that other people think of me when they see fluffy bunnies…which is far, far less desirable from my point of view. Anyway, enjoy.

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