Christmas 2007

The sound of December has been the scrape and rumble of the snowplow along Island roads, accompanied by the howl of the Montreal Express. The winter solstice is tomorrow and cold weather has arrived with a vengeance. Island homes are hung with wreaths and white lights abound, warding off the darkest season with cheerful winks and twinkles through pine boughs, bare branches and ship masts on the harbors. In the inky night sky, the moon is waxing and due to be full on Christmas Eve.

Islanders are tucked into their homes, snug against the bitter chill outdoors, wrapping gifts, decorating trees and baking, baking, baking. Kitchens are redolent with smells that make you think an angel has come to visit: cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. Butter, sugar and eggs are a constant presence on the grocery list and waistlines are at risk — but what the heck, Christmas comes just once a year. For those who worry about such things, January boot camp is just around the corner.

At the Gazette office in Edgartown, Mariko Kawaguchi’s handsome wreath hangs on the front door, a peaceful symbol of the season. Inside, reporters and advertising reps are scurrying about, pulling together all the bits and pieces that are the collage of a weekly community newspaper. Christmas is a few days away, but still there are committee meetings to cover, obituaries to edit, legal notices to proofread, church services to prepare for listings.

This is the season when Islanders for the most part put aside petty arguments and divisive politics and turn their collective gaze outward, giving back and helping others in need.

And there are many.

The Red Stocking Fund has seen a surge in applicants this year, adding fifty to its list of more than three hundred needy Island children. The children are especially young — sixty per cent of them are under the age of three. And with the economy uncertain and home heating oil and insurance costs skyrocketing, the Vineyard Food Pantry is bracing for a winter of heavy traffic at its headquarters in the stone church in Vineyard Haven.

The volunteers who man these programs are the Vineyard’s unsung Christmas angels.

The late Hal Borland wrote this about winter:

“Even for those who have to live with it, winter is a remarkable season. Year after year it comes adorned with snowflakes, ice, poinsettias, colds, narcissus and last year’s overcoats. It affords the farmer time to finish last summer’s work and to contemplate next summer’s job. It keeps the urbanite in touch with the principles of combustion and radiation. It enables Florida to sell sunshine and New England to sell snow. It brings long leisurely evenings in which to read digests of books one would enjoy reading. Winter is wonderful.”

It is a good subject to ponder: what to read this winter.

Detective novels, crime thrillers and historical fiction all have appeal, as does an occasional dip into poetry, possibly inspired by last summer’s visit to the Vineyard by Billy Collins, former poet laureate for the United States.

Perhaps something not too serious.

Thumbing through a fifth edition of Fulcrum turned up this gem from Joe Green, a poet from St. Paul Minnesota:

It was Christmas Eve 1939

W.H. Auden was waiting for a sign.

“Been to China, been to Spain.

Lord, lord, don’t want to do it again.

The Christmas star rages with its usual vengeance.

Lord, lord give me a little transcendence.”

To all our readers near and far — down the chimney or otherwise — the Gazette sends out its warmest greetings for a Merry Christmas.