A View to the East

The simplicity of a country Christmas is undeniable.

Twisted and threaded through twin pieces of rusted rebar that serve as mailbox supports, the plastic garland is older than the children tumbling from the school bus. Still, its shabbiness hardly is noticed by the mail carrier, or by the slippered woman trudging down the lane from her house. Perhaps, she thinks, there will be a card.

From a distance, the garland appears perfect: full and fresh. From a distance, even plastic communicates the determination and joy pulsing in the woman’s heart. In this house, she thinks, we will celebrate. We will mark the season. We will share our joy.

Farther down the road, a simple wreath adorns the broken gate propped against the fence. Its ribbon flutters in the wind, attracting attention, drawing the eye over the gate and into a pasture. There’s a brush pile, and some uncleared cedar. A few trees, bulldozed and left to die, wait to be added to the pile. No cattle roam, no stock tank or pond offers refreshment — not even a piece of rusted, broken-down machinery offers resistance to the despondent wind sighing across the field.

With no house in sight, the wreath seems slightly odd until the eye travels beyond the brush pile to the single, spreading oak hung with drops of red, silver and gold. The ornaments are the size of basketballs, or even larger; they would have to be, to be seen at such a distance.

It must have required a team of youngsters to get them into the tree. Swinging in the breeze, beautiful in their simplicity and striking in their isolation, they whisper their poignant reminder – in this emptiness, beyond this fading light and behind this unworked land, lies human presence.

At night, the country shines. As darkness overcomes the fields and hedgerows, a star flickers into life atop a windmill: a reminder of the unseen herd that gathers at the tank. Curves of colored lights mark the end of a lane. A fire flickers in the distance. Where homes cling more closely to the frail web of blacktop linking them together, the shimmer of lighted trees or occasional twinkling nets flung across bushes light a path for homebound travelers.

For eyes accustomed to the insistent glow of city celebrations, country lights seem frail and faint: the singular star, the barely visible flicker of presence impoverished and insignificant. For those who equate Christmas with lavish celebration, obsessive consumption, and elegant gluttony, the modesty of a single star can evoke pity, or contempt.

Strangely, equating Christmas with extravagance often leads to complaints; there are too many obligations; too many demands; too many expectations. Somewhat ironically, the commitment to extravagance can end in a sense of impoverishment: a conviction that there never will be enough money, or energy, or time to celebrate properly, and that any effort to create the perfect holiday inevitably will fall short.

The Christian church, of course, always has offered an alternative to the extravagance and angst of the holiday season.

Despite being nearly forgotten and often dismissed as irrelevant, these dark December days, these days we love to fill with light, and chatter, and exhaustion, constitute the forgotten season of Advent.

A modest season, shy and uneasy with extravagance, its days are meant for emptying: for lying fallow, for waiting. To embrace the darkness in which the dimmest star can shine; to shiver in a cold destined to be filled with the warmth of human presence; to acknowledge human limits in the face of infinite longings, is to discover Advent. Simple and unadorned, occasionally austere; and determinedly ordinary, Advent nurtures one of the rarest of gifts — celebration on a human scale.

One of most beautiful tributes to Advent and perhaps the most modest of all Christmas songs was written by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965). Published as Carol of Advent in Part 3 of The Oxford Book of Carols (1928), People, Look East is set to BESANÇON, an ancient carol which first appeared in Christmas Carols New and Old (1871) as the setting for Shepherds, Shake Off Your Drowsy Sleep.

Farjeon, a native Londoner and devout Catholic, is best remembered for her poem Morning Has Broken, often sung as a hymn and popularized by Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens). A prolific writer of children’s books and Hans Christian Andersen award-winner for The Little Bookroom, her poetry is remarkably plain, and yet perfectly suited for musical settings.

I’ve always been touched by Farjeon’s admonition in People, Look East. “Make your house fair as you are able,” she says. If it lies within your means, trim the hearth with a candle or two. Set the table with your best dishes, and smooth out the best cloth you can find. Dress a tree with pinecones, or twine a bit of garland around a fence or mailbox. But don’t frustrate yourself trying to outdo the neighbors’ lighting. Don’t exhaust yourself in kitchen or malls. Above all, don’t try to fill your heart’s void with gifts, or attempt to replicate a past that never was.

And, as you prepare your house, prepare your heart as well to celebrate as the world herself celebrates: guarding an empty nest, walking the fallow field, keeping watch under darkened skies for stars flickering into life. In the midst of the world’s extravagant preparations, take time to raise your eyes and look to the horizon, lest you miss the most modest of comings.

“People, Look East”  ~  The Deller Consort
People, look east, the time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east
Love, the guest, is on his way.
Furrows, be glad, though earth is bare
One more seed is planted there.
Give of your strength the seed to nourish
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east
Love, the rose, is on his way.
Birds, though ye long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
Evil flesh in time has chosen.
People, look east
Love, the bird, is on his way.
Stars, keep a watch when night is dim,
One more light the bowl shall brim.
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together,
People, look east
Love, the star, is on his way.
Angels, announce to man and beast
Him who cometh from the east.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east
Love, the Lord, is on his way.

Comments always are welcome.
While I didn’t intentionally schedule my move to a new home on the first Sunday of Advent, and although I didn’t set out to have an eastern exposure in my new home, both of those things happened. An edited version of this post, previously published, seemed to fit the occasion.

120 thoughts on “A View to the East

  1. This is such a beautiful post, Linda, and a thoughtful one. Beautifully illustrated as well. I have to say, I get a special feeling when I drive in the country and in some isolated spot see signs of Christmas. Lights on a lone farmhouse, some decoration in the field. So unexpected. I get that same feeling when I drive through very poor neighborhoods where one suspects the residents rely heavily on the food bank and the homes are in dire need of repair. Yet the lights are set — maybe not elaborate but all the more lovely for the effort, the simplicity.

    The song is beautiful and I wasn’t familiar with it. However, I did just learn about Eleanor Farjeon through another source this weekend. I was reading a mystery by J. Jefferson Farjeon who wrote in the 20s and 30, maybe the 40s too — the golden age of mystery writing. I’ve read several of his books and his plots are rather ingenious. In the brief intro to his piece in this anthology from British Library, it mentioned he was not the only writer in his family and spoke a bit of his sister!

    I hope your move has gone smoothly and soon your neighbors will see that light in your window, welcoming the season and serving as a beacon for the future.

    1. I didn’t know about Farjeon’s brother. Once I looked at her bio, it became clear that the entire family was literarily inclined in one way or another. She was more prolific than I’d realized — that’s so often the case. We focus on one or two books or songs that achieve popularity, and never realize there’s a larger body of work lying behind them.

      One of the fun things about this new place is that the windows are both larger and lower. That means that my Christmas tree will be visible — there weren’t many people who could see it before, unless they were levitating up to the third story.

  2. You really do have a way with words…even your prose is poetic and flows like a creek taking us to a river that leads to an ocean. You start with the smallest detail and build on it until we get to where you want us to go. Beautifully written and I love all the photos. I lust after whatever it is you used to frame them.

    1. What a lovely compliment, Jean. I did have to smile at your metaphor. Around here, the realtors are given to promoting so-called waterfront property that really is nothing more than a lot on a drainage ditch that leads to a retention pond that drains into the bay. I like your description better!

      That framing was part of an online processing program that I used years and years ago. It went defunct — I think it might even have been related to Google. There’s a new program that was designed by people who lost their jobs when the old program was scrapped, and it includes that framing. You can find it here.

  3. Good message! We have always kept our celebrations simple, with the possible exception of work in the kitchen. Cutting back a little on that, too. This year we have come up with a “Munchie and Crunchies” mix to put in canning jars to give to friends and family. Tasty and a little break from all the sweets.

    1. So many of the things I remember most fondly were relatively simple, like stringing cranberries and popcorn for the tree, but cookie baking — and candle making — were great fun, too. I still have the Aunt Chick’s cookie cutter set that my mom used to make Santa cookies for me every year, and I think this might be the year that I give it a go, too. Those Santas always looked great with their raisin eyes and coconut beards!

  4. A happy coincidence, indeed, when it comes to looking east. While this is the Christmas season, east shares an etymological root with Easter, which originally celebrated a pre-Christian dawn goddess. The words for “People, Look East” given in this hymn book differ somewhat from those in your post.

    1. The words do vary from arrangement to arrangement. In fact, I changed the words in this post just slightly to accord with the Deller Consort recording, instead of the St. Paul’s Choir version I’d used before. Another setting I’ve really enjoyed is the one performed at the Villa de Matel by the Houston Chamber Choir. . The recording does a fair job of conveying the wonderful acoustics there.

    1. Thank you, Peter. I enjoy Christmas music as much as anyone, but the music of Advent is a treasure, and I love introducing people to songs they don’t know, or reminding them of some they might have forgotten.

  5. Lovely. A simple gesture, a garland, a star, a bow on a fence speaks volumes. I sometimes miss the decorations, the Christmas tree, the lights. You remind me that I can hang the few simple Christmas items I have with me from the bushes outside our trailer and fully acknowledge the season. Thank you.

    I loved the hymn and the photos. Are they yours?

    Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens (at the time) is one of my favorite hymns ever.

    1. One of the most delightful Christmas mornings I remember was in Salisbury, England. Outside the door of my room at the inn where I was staying, there was an orange and a peppermint stick: gifts from the innkeepers. I still remember my sense of delight, and the sweet taste of the treats: simple gifts, freely given. In a sense, that’s what the star on the windmill or the ragged wreath are, too — gifts of the season.

      The photos aren’t mine. The last (the winter scene) was taken by a blog friend named Gerry Sell, who lives in Torch Lake, Michigan. The others were purchased from a photo site called iStock, back in the days when I wasn’t taking my own photos for my blog. That was a very long time ago, indeed!

  6. I had not heard of this before. Thank you for posting it.
    One of the many things I have long loved about the country, simplicity…

    1. One of my favorite songs is the old Shaker hymn, “Tis a Gift to be Simple,” and you’re right that simplicity is one of the greatest gifts of country life. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but there are real satisfactions to be had — and cherished.

  7. Beautiful writing, Linda! I wish you and your family peace and love this Christmas season. All the best in your new home! We also moved during Christmas season, 16 years ago when we moved to Oregon. Christmas day was spent opening boxes.

    1. Thank you so much for your good wishes, Lavinia! As I begin settling in, I’m more and more pleased — both with the apartment, and with my decision. I’ve been amused by my sense of surprise when opening some boxes. It’s been rather like Christmas, since I’d already forgotten some of the possessions I packed away for the move. I’m looking forward to clearing a space and doing at least a bit of decorating, although I do have a wreath on the door already.

  8. Yes, those happenstance events that occurred recently in your life, I am sure mean a peaceful and happy life wherever your home may be.
    Magnificent post, Linda. You never cease to amaze me!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, GP ~ thank you for those kind words.

      I’m sufficiently unpacked now that I’ve gone back to work and can tend to my blog — not to mention walking through my new place without feeling like I’m in a maze. There’s still plenty of settling in to be done, but I’m very happy with how neatly everything has come together.

  9. Love that you’ll have an eastern exposure, particularly apt if you happen to be a morning person! Hope you’re settling in nicely, too.

    I think we must have sung People, Look East when I was in choir. The tune, of course, is most familiar, though I confess I didn’t remember the lyrics. And I’d have never guessed the same person penned it as did Morning Has Broken.

    Lovely post here, Linda. There’s something to be said for the calm and anticipation of Advent, and I imagine a country setting proves splendid for that.

    1. As it happened, the cypress trees in front of my place dropped all their needles over Thanksgiving, so I’ll have just a bit of a sky view through the rest of the winter. I also spotted a squirrel resting on a limb of one of those trees tonight. I’m not sure where the family’s living, but they’re close. Every morning there have been two or three running up and down, chasing one another.

      The more commercialized and hectic the weeks before Christmas become, the more I appreciate Advent. Besides — we don’t really lose anything by observing Advent, since the Christmas season doesn’t begin until December 25. Then, we have those wonderful Twelve Days of Christmas to take us up to Epiphany; I rarely take my tree down until then, or at least until New Year’s Day.

  10. Fantastic description of Christmas, country style. Thanks for introducing me to “People Look East.” Wonderful. Comment about “don’t try to fill your heart’s void with gifts, or attempt to replicate a past that never was.” I pity children who have so many presents all year long that they can never experience the special joy of getting a Christmas present. I hope they discover early that things will never fill the void. I’m just thinking of all the Christmas stories I have heard, I don’t believe one has been about a rich child receiving a present. No, they are centered around the joy of a poor child who receives a present. Hummm, can you? Rich are more likely to receive joy in challenges. There must be a lesson here somewhere. I turn it over to you, dear Linda.

    1. While my friends and I certainly wrote letters to Santa, and spent plenty of time with the “wish book” (aka the Sears catalog), we never expected to receive exactly what we asked for. In fact, some of the best gifts I ever received, and certainly the most memorable, were ones I never thought to ask for: a sled; a little metal kitchen cabinet with tiny cake and pie tins; some plastic bricks for building. It always was the element of surprise that was the real delight. I can’t think of anything sadder than handing over a list, knowing that everything on it will arrive, but that there won’t be any surprises.

      That’s what made our Christmas stockings so much fun. Along with the orange and the Brazil nuts in the toe, there always was a surprise: a wind-up toy, a new set of colored pencils, a new hand-knit dress for my doll.

      Of course, there are times when the world itself offers a gift to rich and poor alike. I’m thinking of Christmas Eve, 2004, when enough snow fell along the Texas coast that people were building snowmen and making snow angels. Everyone was out at midnight, whooping and hollering like six-year-olds, and the next morning, it was as beautiful as any Christmas card. It was the perfect Christmas, and no one had to buy a thing.

    1. I do love this season, and I was especially glad to have this post from the past to mark the beginning of Advent, since my creative focus has been pretty much on packing and unpacking. A few more empty boxes, and a few more good nights’ sleep, and I’ll tackle my own Tannenbaum.

  11. The song conveys joy, surely. That star atop the windmill says it all for me, nothing else required.
    Jean expresses oh so eloquently how I feel about your tender writing.
    On the road, I always try to park up overnight so I have the easterly view from my bed.

    1. Any kind of solitary light in the darkness is compelling. Another country experience I always enjoy is travel on the coastal plain on the Fourth of July. You can see all the small fireworks shows in all the little towns, sparkling along the horizon. It’s deeply touching — an affirmation of community, and so, so different from the big urban shows. Even natural ‘little lights’ are delightful. I suppose that’s why children are so taken with the search for “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight.” I did it myself, and it was thrilling to finally catch a glimpse of that ‘first’ star.

  12. A beautiful post, Linda. Morning has Broken is one of my favorite poems. The song by Yusuf Islam has been on my playlist for the last 40 years. Thank you for this very substantive view of Christmas.

    1. I hadn’t listened to “Morning Has Broken” in quite some time, but it’s still as wonderful as ever. In its own way, it does as well as “People Look East” as a seasonal song. I’m glad to have included one of your favorites, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  13. One of my two outdoor decorations is up. It’s an old spiral plastic tree with a star on top. Not sure how old it is. But, it still works for me. The other is an old 3 ft lighted wreath to go up in a few days. Both old-timers will be illuminated 4 hrs when a high-tech timer trips with the dimming twilight. Simple is good.

    1. One of the things I miss about the midwest is the way the colored lights of Christmas decorations look against a background of snow — or buried in snow, for that matter.

      Timers are wonderful, but on the other hand, it was exciting to be allowed to turn the lights on when I was a kid. How they’d been hooked up I can’t say, but I remember where I plugged them in, and how beautiful they were when they began to shine. I found my door wreath last night, and now it’s hanging — it’s a reminder to me that the season’s a little shorter this year, and I’d best tend to the holidays as well as unpacking.

  14. The night of the winter solstice is the longest night of the year. The sunrise the next day fulfills the promise that the light has returned. That, to me, is the promise of Christmas. The light has returned.

    1. And Farjeon included that in her poem with her metaphor of the star: “bright as sun and moon together.” I’ve always loved the prologue to St. John’s gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” I haven’t read Tolstoy’s unfinished play of the same name, but it might be a nice selection for Advent this year.

  15. Good words for the season, Linda, reminding us of the value of simplicity. And the beauty. I, too, am looking east out our library window, watching nature as it unfolds: a squirrel is busily burying acorns, preparing for the winter ahead. Chickadees are raiding the bird feeder. They dash in, grab a seed, and zip away. A doe and her kid come grazing up out of the canyon. They stop to groom each other.
    Meanwhile, Peggy is in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies. Later, we will deliver them to our neighbors. But first I have to sample them. It is an important responsibility. :) –Curt

    1. To be The Sampler of the Cookies is a great responsibility, indeed. It’s almost as important as keeping those feeders filled. I don’t expect to see any deer here, but last night I spotted a cardinal in the bushes, and more squirrels. When I went out to the car late at night, there were lizards gathered on the wall under a light. I intend to make the acquaintance of them all. With luck, I’ll get a cookie or two made, as well.

      1. I was talking this morning with Peggy about our condo in Sacramento where our total wildlife was a few birds and a grey squirrel that would climb the tree and stare in my second floor office window.
        I have taken my responsibilities for cookie tasting quite seriously, having to go back several times for quality control.
        By all means make some. You will be popular with your new neighbors.

        1. I’m not sure what the difference is, but I’ve already had more interaction with my new neighbors than I ever did with those at my old apartment. I have some hypotheses, including one that involves differences in the way the building I’m in now is constructed and sited, but I’ll have to think about it.

          As for the squirrels, I could have gotten some great photos last night, but I couldn’t find my camera. Then, once I ran it down, I couldn’t find my lenses. I’d seen them only two hours earlier, but chaos still has the upper hand around this joint. Eventually, I found them, but the squirrel had gone to bed.

          1. One thing about squirrels, Linda, it is pretty sure to be back. Glad to hear about your neighbors.
            We are lucky here. We have a really diverse group but everyone seems to get along and are always willing to lend a hand. It has to do with country living. And Peggy, who seems to make friends with everyone! –Curt

            1. You can change that “it” to “they.” At first light this morning, there was a pair chasing one another around the tree trunks. One of these days, I’ll find their nest.

  16. What a lovely post and so eloquently worded too. I don’t celebrate Christmas these days and no longer live near friends with small children, but I support those who do (even if only in thought).

    Thanks for sharing, Linda :)

    1. Thank you, Vicki. Some of the season’s simplicity and joy seem to me to have been lost over the years, thanks to multiple influences, but its pleasures still can be experienced — especially the beauty of traditional music and decorations, not to mention the treats. I’ve not been able to make our traditional family recipes every year, but when I can, the celebration feels complete.

  17. I really like the last two photos. The bird is fabulous and my favorite. This is so beautifully written and how wonderful that you have an entry facing east. You can always look for a spectacular sunrise and with an eastern facing apartment I would think that would give you an advantage for a little bit more coolness in the summer months, but maybe not.

    1. You’re exactly right about the added ‘coolth’ in summer. My previous apartment faced north, which meant strong north winds in winter and baking heat in summer when the sun had moved north. I’m interested to see how much the utility bill will decline; there’s no question that it will. An added benefit that I hadn’t thought about is that there are cypress trees in front of my new place. They’ve dropped their needles now, which will allow for more light now that the sun is so far south, but in summer, when it moves north and is shining more directly on my place, they will have leafed out again.

      The bird actually is an illustration rather than a photo. I purchased it from a site called iStock, back in the days before I was taking my own photos. It is lovely — maybe my favorite of the group.

    1. Thank you for those kind words, Derrick. So many of my favorite seasonal songs have British roots. I’m hoping to “unpack” one or two more throughout the season. As I mentioned, things have gone smoothly, but now I’m wishing the Unpacking Fairy would show up and finish the job. I’m ready to move on, but I think the Fairy must be out Christmas shopping — or partying.

  18. A wonderful post, Linda. I have loved Eleanor Farjeon since I was given a book of her poems in about 1965 or 1966. I will have to check if People, look East is in the book. I don’t think it is there, though, because the words and the song are unfamiliar to me. May you enjoy Advent in your new home and enjoy looking East.

    1. I’d never read any of her other poems, but I discovered she understood two things very well: cats, and a child’s resistance to bedtime. As for “People, Look East,” it’s one of those poems that might not be very memorable being read off a page. The music certainly adds to its appeal. Just as words and images can play off one another, a poem and a musical setting can do the same.

      It’s wonderful that you were introduced to her so long ago. Now, I’m glad to have introduced you to another of her works, one that fits the season so well.

  19. How lovely! It reminds me of the night drive home from Granny and Papa’s farm after spending Christmas with them when I was young. Those lonely country roads and then….. a lit up Christmas tree gleaming from a window, with the night sky and stars overhead.

    1. We do have wonderful memories, don’t we? Christmas Eve and Christmas night always seemed magical — as silent as the night the carol celebrated, and as full of peacefulness.

  20. Celebrating on a human — and individual — scale is a good message for a season that has become for many sadly, sometimes absurdly fraught.

    Thanks for a thoughtful, well-illustrated post (I love the star on the windmill photo) and the introduction to Eleanor Farjeon. I didn’t know the back history of Morning Has Broken.

    Best wishes for a lovely holiday season and much happiness in your new home.

    1. I took a look at my kitchen this morning and thought, “Well, this isn’t necessarily eclectic, but it certainly is chaotic.” It’s a kitchen for the Uber Eats and takeout crowd, that’s for sure — but with a little creativity it will do. Lack of kitchen counter space is the only real downside I’ve found so far. Once I’ve solved that, I’ll be perfectly happy, and ready to take on the Christmas season.

      I’d so closely associated “Morning Has Broken” with Cat Stevens, I’d have said he wrote the song if someone asked. I’m glad to have learned the backstory, too, as well as being introduced to Farjeon’s other poetry. I still think Robert Louis Stevenson’s Child’s Garden of Verses better, but that may be due to the fact that I was raised with his verses, rather than hers.

    1. It is fun to sing, especially since harmonizing’s so easy. I can’t remember ever singing it in church, which is a little odd, but I have heard it in plenty of choral programs. As for this new home, I’m enjoying it more with each box that’s emptied. Of course, your relatively recent move probably makes you sensitive to another reality: an emptied box often means stuff strewn hither and yon until it finds a spot to land. It’s getting better, but there’s still a slight edge of chaos around here.

  21. A country Christmas is a beautiful thing! We only get a dose every few years in rural PA, but we’ve managed to keep all the holiday craziness a little more at bay even here. Your photos and the linkage to Advent and People, Look East and Morning has Broken are all wonderful!

    1. Thanks so much, Lexi. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It is possible to keep the substantial craziness at bay even in the city. In fact, one of my loveliest, most peaceful Christmas memories involves Manhattan — not usually considered the still point of the turning world! I hope your holiday season’s filled with delights. Now I’m wondering whether the Buffalo Bayou Cistern is doing anything particular for the season. I still haven’t gotten there, but this would be a fine time to visit, decorated or not.

    1. Was Farjeon already familiar to you, Dina? I read through some of her children’s poems, and they really are delightful. It won’t be long until your little one is ready for poetry — if she’s not already enjoying it. Several of her collections of stories look interesting, including The Little Book Room, which features “a goldfish who wishes to “marry the Moon, surpass the Sun, and possess the World.” I think I need to read that one!

  22. Morning has Broken has always been a favorite of mine, but I had no idea it was written by Eleanor Farjeon. I had never heard of her before this post.

    As I have matured, Christmas has become simple and quiet. It is by choice that Forrest and I remain here caring for our animals, and celebrating the holiday just the two of us. I agree that simple decoration is often more eye catching, perhaps causing us to wonder who and why someone would bother in a rural setting? I like that bit of mystery.

    1. Isn’t it interesting how something we enjoy can have an intriguing backstory we know nothing about? I mentioned to someone else I’d always assumed Cat Stevens was the author of “Morning Has Broken.” I don’t remember ever hearing a word about the fact that the lyrics were created by someone else.

      I had to grin — when you said your Christmas has become more simple, the first thing that crossed my mind was your cookie baking. That doesn’t seem at all simple to me! Still, it’s part of an old country tradition, and a few homemade cookies can outshine a lot of expensive, commercially purchased gifts, especially if the cookies themselves are family recipes.

      Speaking of family recipes, I finally found my set of Aunt Chick’s cookie cutters yesterday. I think this might be the year I make some of those Santas again. The children I know are far too sophisticated to put out cookies and milk for Santa, but I have a few friends who still believe.

  23. What a lovely and eloquent post you’ve written. It speaks to my heart and reminds me once again how I love the simple meaningful aspects of Christmas here in our country home. I’ve always liked the song Morning Has Broken but I didn’t know it was originally written by Eleanor Farjeon nor did I know her other works. Thank you for introducing her to me.

    1. I’m glad to have added a bit of beauty to your celebrations — not to mention a little more information about “Morning Has Broken.” I’m so glad you said that the post speaks to your heart. While I’ve heard some complaints about “too early” Christmas music and such this year, most people I know seem happy for it. I think the whole country is heart-weary, and could stand a bit of simple beauty, whatever their beliefs.

  24. Simply beautiful. I will be inspired to notice more about what happens for Christmas as I travel our local farming community. I will also be inspired to try a bit of decoration here as well. We often don’t do any. No kids, no family, just us, why bother. Sounds sad when when you say it. Maybe that should be the impetus for us to make an effort? It will be humble to be sure. It has been many years of not much to nothing at all here. Thanks for the nudge. :)

    1. Why bother? Well, for you, of course! I hung my wreath last night, and when I came back from taking out some trash, it made me happy to see it hanging there in all its glittery glory. This year, I’ll have a spot in my new place where a lighted tree can be seen. I’m hoping to get the mess cleaned up today — at least to the extent that I can put the tree in its spot and let it be enjoyed by passers-by. That’s one advantage to being on the ground floor I hadn’t thought of, so I need to pursue it.

  25. Simple decorations are the most beautiful and most original. I get tired of all the commercialism in decorations – the more “stuff” the better. But then I don’t decorate at all anymore, just a candle or two, a Christmas coffee cup and Christmas glasses. Gifts are placed beneath a glass-topped coffee table with shells on top. Your post is beautiful and reminds me that what matters is love. Thanks for the poem too.

    I am glad you have made it safely to your new home. Enjoy your eastern exposure. Now you can watch the sun move across the morning sky as the seasons change. Our home faces west but we have windows in the back that face the east. Take care. Eighty-one degrees today. I treasure our rare perfect weather days. I hope you are having some too.

    1. The weather has been just glorious, all week long. It made the “big” move on Monday easier, and it was a pleasure to finally get back to work on Wednesday. Sunny and warm is supposed to linger until Tuesday, so I think I’ll make time tomorrow — no matter what state things are in around here — to get outdoors somewhere, and just enjoy it all.

      The decorations I most remember from childhood certainly were simple: paper chains for the tree, popcorn and cranberry strings, “snow” made from Lux soap flakes for the windows. (Why we thought we needed snow on the windows, I don’t know, since there was plenty of it outside.) Like pressed leaves in autumn and little bouquets of violets in spring, simplicity was key.

    1. It just tickles me that I’ve introduced Farjeon to some of her fellow citizens. Of course, I’ve learned about some U.S. writers I didn’t know from my readers, so there’s that. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. There are a couple of other lesser-known songs I’m hoping to write about, but that may require more focus than I’m capable of this season — especially since the time is so short now.

  26. It’s great to remember who Farjeon was. I now also know she was the one who wrote ‘Morning Has Broken’. Beautifully illustrated post. I truly enjoyed the images. Can you share the program you used to create them? I have regular Photoshop, but to create these kind of images I find it unnecessarily difficult. It’s become all the more complicated with the years.

    1. It doesn’t matter who created them, I’m just saying that Photoshop is becoming less user friendly with the years. I’m glad your moving went well.

      1. I still haven’t managed to figure out Photoshop, or Lightroom, for that matter. I’m sure that I could, but despite books and videos, they still give me a headache. Until I can settle down and learn how to use them, shooting in RAW isn’t going to do me any good at all. Maybe this winter will be the time.

        1. Photoshop is so full of hidden menus, that using it requires advanced memory skills. Sometimes, I just want to create simple, graphic-like images such as these, and PS will not provide for that. Sometimes I just want to add a border, and PS will force me to measure it unnecessarily. Thanks for the link.

          1. Another great program is called PicMonkey. You can find it easily with a search. For cropping, simple frames, and such, it’s very good, and those basics are free.

    2. The images are quite old. I edited them with an online editor that was popular in the late ’90s. I think it might have been a Google program, and even earlier than Picasa. It was discontinued, but many of the people involved with the program started a new company called Ribbet, . It includes features like these mirrored frames that were so popular with the earlier program, although they’re part of the paid upgrade. I think it’s $4.95/month, but there is a free trial available that includes all the features.

    1. The nice thing about so many carols is that they can be enjoyed by everyone, and they’re several cuts above much of the current seasonal music. I think this is one of the best — I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  27. I remember that song from Mass a few years ago, but not recently heard it in Church. Lovely post!
    Welcome to your new home, and happy your wreath made you smile! I had debated about even putting up a Christmas tree as no one will be coming home for Christmas. I had some extra time yesterday and it was such a nice day that decided to drag out the tree. Glad I did!

    1. I took another step today and pulled out the white ceramic tree my mother made years and years ago. We had a warm weekend, and a couple of my neighbors have lights strung now — it’s so nice. No outdoor lights for me, though — it’s too late, and the season’s too complicated. But I’m going to try to get the “real” tree up, as soon as I get a space cleared for it.

  28. As always, a very well crafted post, Linda. Our society seems to be ever chasing bigger and better. But it is the simple things that have the most significance quite often. A little decoration, humble yet beautiful, can bring more cheer than a building covered with flashing lights, strobing onlookers into a daze.

    1. “Strobed into a daze” is a great line — and we’ve all seen it. On the other hand, I’ve loved my Christmas holidays in NYC, and the lights were a great part of it. They didn’t have the technology developed yet when I was there, but I’ve always wished I could have seen one of the great Saks Fifth Avenue Christmas lights shows.
      From what I gather, they’re a little over the top now, too, but those early ones (2009-2015 or so) were great.

      The Houston Zoo, Moody Gardens in Galveston, and other such places have fabulous displays, but the cost is prohibitive for many people. I prefer the old tradition of driving through neighborhoods, and taking in the free show.

      1. Like this one? Over the top is what I was getting at. People are always trying to outdo something…themselves or someone else.

        In Springfield, MA there is Bright Nights, a drive through light show in Forest Park. If you don’t hit it at the right time the procession is bumper to bumper which gives you more time to enjoy the individual displays but people are too impatient. I’ve never gone, but Mary Beth used to go with her parents and would like to go again this year. So maybe we will, I am not that Grinchy guy.

        1. The nice thing about the one in River Oaks is that it appears you can walk as well as ride. One of the best I’ve ever seen was a walk-through in Louisiana that featured Papa Noel, alligators, and pirogues. It’s great fun to see locals adapt the lights-at-Christmas thing.

          I’m not grinchy, but I do tend to be traffic-averse, which has kept me from going to the nearest display in nearby Dickinson. A friend who lives on the same road never has been there, either. Maybe this will be the year we finally take her grandkids and venture over there.

  29. I am caught by the phrase “set every hill and valley humming,” especially a propos our conversation regarding “word” in my post. Our watching and waiting piques the interest of our neighbors – of all sorts. I am also caught up in your invitation to simplicity. This is always a good thing to hear, and I thank you for it!

    1. That is a nice coincidence, isn’t it? Our little back-and-forth reminded me of some lines from a poem by Sarojini Naidu called “Coromandel Fishers,” a poem that highlights the human/world connection:

      “No longer delay, let us hasten away
      in the track of the sea gull’s call,
      The sea is our mother, the cloud is our brother,
      the waves are our comrades all.
      What though we toss at the fall of the sun
      where the hand of the sea-god drives?
      He who holds the storm by the hair,
      will hide in his breast our lives.”

      I sometimes think one of the great, under-appreciated realities of life on the water is the simplicity it imposes on those who take to it.

      1. My dad would have loved S. Naidu’s poem. It brought back to me so many happy days with him, sailing on an inland lake in the midwest, both of us imagining a sea-going adventure that he always dreamed of and I was content just to imagine. Also, as he believed poems should have strong music, this one would have become part of his collection of performances around a campfire after a day’s sail. Thank you for the memories.

        (I meant to tell you how much I liked the post itself, but after readingthrough all the comments I realized that it was all said there– including the reflections on the beauty and power of Advent, which I had almost forgotten about. Thank you for that reminder too!)

        1. Advent always passes too quickly for me, and this year it seemed entirely too short. It was an accident of the calendar, of course, but still — it’s a special time, and one that I appreciate for its invitation to peaceful reflection.

          I was introduced to the Naidu poem by a reader who lives in that part of the world. Water is water, and fishermen fish, however widely separated their waters. Of course, sailors sail, too — and any who’ve spent any time on the water always have a lifetime of memories. I like the thought of this poem being transformed into song by your father. We don’t always have to sing someone else’s song; sometimes we can make up our own.

  30. The last paragraph in your essay hits the right note – accepting the fallow season, finding light by looking up at night or sunrise. Seems like the season is about coping with the darkness and the lack of abundance, and people sometimes go too far. Music has a special place in this season, there’s hearts ease in songs like People, Look East and the carols and other music of the season.

    1. I’ve always thought that’s one reason candlelight services at midnight are such a beloved Christmas tradition. The combination of darkness, light, and music is nearly irresistible.It’s also a strange truth that this season, which celebrates emptiness and waiting, so often is filled with frenetic activity — so much so that the season’s over almost before it’s been experienced. Our ability to cope with darkness, emptiness, and nature’s bleakness can be limited, it seems.

      1. Christmas candlelight services and winter solstice music performances share that magical combination. The bustle of the season is a way to avoid the darkness and emptiness.

  31. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I lived for many years in rural locations where simple things sparked the rich life experienced by all. Your words remind me of these past times.

    1. I was thinking yesterday about one of those simple traditions that seems to have been lost: the giving of gifts to the milkman, the postman, the paper boy. It came to mind when I was at the grocery store. The checker picked up one of the small soaps I’d picked up as a stocking stuffer, and inhaled its fragrance, commenting on how pleasant it was. On impulse, I handed one to her and said, “Merry Christmas!” The look on her face was wonderful — a reminder of what gift-giving can be when it’s unexpected, and not a transaction.

  32. I’m definitely a fan of using Christmas decorations which have been around for years. They’re the ones with the memories – the creche that was once my mother’s when she was a child, the pine cone wreathe that I hang each year beside the front door that I made when I was in college, the construction paper tree ornaments that my children made when they were in elementary school – the list of well-loved decorations (some might call them shabby) goes on and on.

    1. Some might call them shabby, but I never would. One reason to give a ‘real’ gift is because of the memories they carry — just like the decorations that are preserved through the years. Contributing to good causes, or giving a gift card, are fine gestures, but on the other hand, there’s nothing there to hold on to. It seems odd, in a season that celebrates the incarnation.

      As a matter of fact, just yesterday I put out a little wooden box that shows a scene (probably Italian) surrounded by gilt decoration. It was the first present I bought for my mother after I was old enough to go to town by myself. I remember the store, the shelf, and the clerk who waited on me — more than sixty years ago.

  33. I so agree with the sentiment of the post. We don’t need to elaborate and overdo the celebration of this season. Simple is better and good and compassion thoughts are more important than all the glitter and splendor.

    1. Once when I was a child bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have enough money to buy a certain gift, I remember being told, “You can’t buy Christmas.” That truth takes many forms, whether it’s applied to gift-giving or decorating, and besides — if there are too many lights glittering and gleaming, who could discern a single, special light shining in the darkness?

    1. Thank you so much. All of the best gifts of the season are freely offered to all: a truth it’s easy to forget under the onslaught of commercialism and cynicism that seem to be hallmarks of our modern age. The simple preparations of ordinary people can be as touching as they are charming; I think the song captures that wonderfully well.

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