"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Dream of Christmas

Christmas Cross Stitch
by my friend Cate DeLong


I love thee . . . with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints.

from sonnet 43
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Three years ago, when I quoted from Salman Rushdie's "Out of Kansas," in my Christmas essay on "Divine Homesickness," I knew that I wanted to return to this passage someday and look at it in greater depth. Coincidentally, Rushdie's essay comes to mind just in time for yet another Christmas essay. Rushdie's theme is The Wizard of Oz, and I don't think anyone really considers either the book or the movie to be a Christmas story; however, the literature of Christmas and the tale of Dorothy's quest share an important motif -- the journey home, where the heart is.

[Another coincidence worth noting: L. Frank Baum's Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, soon to be adapted for the stage by my friend Steven La Vigne, who writes, "Have you read it? It's just lovely, and will provide a lot of opportunity for puppets."]

As for Rushdie, without even intending to write about The Spirit of Christmas, he manages to invoke its antithesis with his description of the fraudulent Wizard as a "humbug." Even worse, the fall from innocence to experience renders us "humbugs" ourselves, despite our best intentions to remain true to our "childhood's faith" and our "lost saints," who may well include Professor Marvel, The Wizard of Oz, Father Christmas, and Good Saint Nick:
“So Oz finally became home; the imagined world became the actual world, as it does for us all, because the truth is that once we have left our childhood places and started out to make our own lives, armed only with what we have and are, we understand that the real secret of the ruby slippers is not that "there's no place like home," but rather that there is no longer such a place as home: except, of course, for the homes we make, or the homes that are made for us, in Oz, which is anywhere and everywhere, except the place from which we began.

"In the place from which I began, after all, I watched the film from the child's - Dorothy's point of view. I experienced, with her, the frustration of being brushed aside by Uncle Henry and Auntie Em, busy with their dull grown-up counting. Like all adults, they couldn't focus on what was really important to Dorothy: namely, the threat to Toto. I ran away with Dorothy and then ran back. Even the shock of discovering that the Wizard was a humbug was a shock I felt as a child, a shock to the child's faith in adults. Perhaps, too, I felt something deeper, something I couldn't articulate; perhaps some half-formed suspicion about grown-ups was being confirmed.

"Now, as I look at the movie again, I have become the fallible adult. Now I am a member of the tribe of imperfect parents who cannot listen to their children's voices. I, who no longer have a father, have become a father instead, and now it is my fate to be unable to satisfy the longings of a child. This is the last and most terrible lesson of the film: that there is one final, unexpected rite of passage. In the end, ceasing to be children, we all become magicians without magic, exposed conjurers, with only our simply humanity to get us through.

We are the humbugs now.”
from Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002,
Essay #1: "Out of Kansas"
by Salman Rushdie
[see also Goodreads]

Sharing Rushdie's sense of loss and cynicism, Greg Lake recalls the ultimate test of his childhood's faith in this haunting carol:

I Believe in Father Christmas

They said there'll be snow at Christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the Virgin Birth
I remember one Christmas morning
A winter's light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a silent night
And they told me a fairy story
'til I believed in the Israelite
And I believed in father Christmas
And I looked at the sky with excited eyes
'til I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there'll be snow at christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth
Hallelujah Noel be it heaven or hell
The Christmas you get you deserve

by Greg Lake

Lake's song, Rushdie's essay, and Barrett Browning's sonnet all remind me of the convincing theory that the house you consider "home" is the one you lived in when you believed in Santa Claus. In his holiday reminiscence, my brother Bruce writes:
"Of all the places we lived, Neosho still draws me like nowhere else. . . . When we were kids, Christmas didn't start till Thanksgiving, but from Thanksgiving to Christmas, it was all Christmas, all the time. There were TV specials almost every night -- or so it seemed. I"m just thinking of those titles, wondering if they were the ones you remember from when we were kids. It's a Wonderful Life. A Charlie Brown Christmas. When Linus recites the birth narrative from Luke 2, that's just classic. It grabs my heart every single time I hear it.

"Has it changed so much since we were kids, or do we just remember it selectively? Sometimes I think I remember it the way I wanted it to be, and miss the fantasy more than I miss the reality. But I miss us kids putting up the tree . . . each taking a turn to put an ornament on. Do you remember that? I miss cocoa made on the stove from a Hershey's square tin, rather than from a Swiss Miss envelope in the microwave. I miss putting on the Christmas albums and listening too them all during Christmas vacation. Ah, but time waits for no one, right?"
I also appreciated the recollections of my grade school friend Brent Green: "I would say proudly and without hesitation that Neosho was one of the most egalitarian towns in which I have ever lived. I did not appreciate it at the time (from 1961 to 1975), but it was a great place to grow up! The schools were good. Neighbors and playmates were great!"

It's true that despite the fact that we moved away in 1967 and have never once been back inside, this has always been and remains to this day my family's favorite house. I often wish we had never moved away. This picture from 2012 is not quite as I remember, but the changes are all for the good: an entire wrap around porch and an expanded second story, including two gables over the side door. One loss: it would appear that the huge pine tree, which we planted in 1965 as a tiny Christmas tree, may have been removed in the midst of all the renovation. The last time I drove past, in 2002, I kept looking at eye - level, but I finally realized that it was way above my head. Turns out it had just kept growing and growing into a giant Norwegian Spruce, taller than any of us had every imagined:

704 Baxter Street ~ Where We Believed!
Photograph by Mitzi Smith

A beautiful song for restoring your childhood's faith:
"There's Still My Joy"
by The Indigo Girls

Next Fortnightly Post
Sunday, December 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST, currently featuring
"The Girl Who Just Loved Christmas"

See Previous Post ~ December 2011
"Home is where the heart is, and Christmas lives there too."


  1. Love all the memories particularly your brother's comments and the words to Greg Lake's song. Although the whole read was a bit of a slog. Lol! You know we want mores pictures less words. Just read Nancy's sermon which went with this morning's reading from Shantideva...vs 8.129 - a fave of the Dali. He might be our last you know. Talk about memories.

  2. Mumbi writes: "I shall think of you as 'Kitti the Explorer' because writers like you explore life, be it about people, stories, poems or just anything about our world and the Universe; then through your God given talents, you use words to convey to the public the 'discoveries' you have made. When we read your 'discoveries,' you sort things out for the rest of us and life's meaning is revealed through your writing. Thank you for the poem."