A full moon hung in the December sky this week, casting long shards of light across the darkened landscape of oncoming winter. Hours before sunrise, pale moonbeams shone through the glass panes of a west-facing kitchen door, a silent accompaniment to the small task of grinding fresh coffee. It is called the cold moon this month, and fittingly the Island has been wrapped in bitter cold, its landscape covered with a paper-thin crust of snow.
The winter solstice is Saturday. Daylight is in short supply at this time of year and something to savor as the sun climbs over a bare, twiggy eastern treeline set against a lavender sky. And then all too soon sinks into a western horizon brushed in soft shades of gray and tangerine.
Everywhere on the Island preparations are under way for Christmas. The colorful parade and parties that surrounded the Christmas in Edgartown weekend have concluded and now the attention turns to churches where parishioners await candlelight services, children’s services and midnight mass. Wreaths of boxwood, holly and pine decorate front doors up-Island and down. Thousands of white and colored lights have been strung on trees, fenceposts and around doorways and rooflines, as if to light the way for Santa’s sleigh when he comes swooping in on Christmas Eve.
A child’s request: Remember to leave some carrots for the reindeer this year.
Because by doing that we will remember to believe, if not in Santa, then at least in the important things that are also the symbols of Christmas: kindness to fellow men and women, peace on earth, joy to the world.
The following essay was written by the late Henry Beetle Hough.
For anyone in New England, it is hard to imagine Christmas anywhere else. There is a certain feeling in the air as early as the night before. The chill is a part of it, and the look of the stars spread across the sky, and the smell of wood smoke, and the mellow gleam of window lights across winter fields or through the bare branches of trees. Often there is wind, but always the trees sway and creak, chimney sparks swirl and die above the roofs, the night seems to have something to say with many gentle mutterings, thin and far away. Often there are frost patterns on the windows, but the creak of axles is almost forgotten in this generation.
Perhaps there is snow, and snow may help on Christmas. But without snow it is Christmas just the same and not a bit less. The hedgerows are festive with rose hips and black alder, and in the woods one knows where to visit the holly and the ground pine. Basic in the whole design of Christmas is the tree, never a cedar but often a pine, smelling of resin and outdoors. That first scent of the tree is imperishable: you remember it from year to year, you remember it as long as you live.
There are spoken greetings, there are hymns and carols, there are glimpses of neat packages and bright cards, there is laughter, and always one notices the church spires against the sky, and the line of the trees and rooftops on Christmas day, not that they are really different, but you yourself are different, and you notice things, and they have meaning.
How could there be Christmas without these things and still more that every New Englander cherishes in his heart, we do not know. Christmas is bluff and hearty, at the same time full of serenity as deep as the countryside lying under deep snow; it is rugged and gentle, solemn and merry.
And here it is again, and if we could we would export some of it herewith to all absent Islanders. The fact is, though, that all of them, no matter where they may be, have some part of an Island Christmas with them, dear and close, kept if necessary from childhood for the recurring day.
Wishing a warm and Merry Christmas to all Gazette readers near and far.