Letter From Dogwood

David Black lives in Louisa County.


For some months now we’ve been told to Christmas-shop even earlier than usual, as all those container ships are wandering about the near Pacific waiting to magically unload our gifts into those driverless big rigs parked in some unknown distant lot, for without those gifts Big Business says our holidays will be bleak and joyless. Children hear and weep, grownups grow restless and look at each other in uneasy guilt. A tradition is broken, a crucial rite unobserved. A great sense of self-reproach lies deep in the heart of the land. We must buy Stuff for Christmas.

We just left Thanksgiving and our annual prayers of rejoicing for all the plenty we have, and yet we feel deprived if we cannot add to that surfeit. “Late and soon, getting and spending,” as the poet said.

We are deep into winter, and it can be cold and gray and grim. One Native American name for the December full moon is “the cold moon.” To my mind, an even better is “the long night moon,” a reminder that even before the government insanity that keeps swapping Daylight Savings Time with Undesirable Time, indigenous people knew that these are our shortest days and that we’d best add extra oil to our lamps as we count the hours to the next equinox.

There are times and conditions when the wintry world turns aright for a while and the shadows shorten and fade away. Clement Moore did us a favor when he wrote, “The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow/, Gave the lustre of midday to objects below” and birthed Santa Claus as we know him.

However, not all winter visitors are as sweet and welcome as Santa, or as Astrid Lindgren’s little tomten or Sven and Olaf in “Frozen.” It was not just for rhyme’s sake that Poe put his ominous corvine visitation “in the bleak December,” and created a chill and eerie mood. There are dying embers in the narrator’s study, and we imagine that outside one will find terror in a frozen landscape. (And far beyond these two visions is the delusional Yule season of those saccharine-drenched Hallmark movies, with their excess of snow, hot chocolate, and flannel shirts. Good Lord, deliver us. . . .)

I do feel sorry for the merchants who expect to make their business year in this short span of a month or two, but I have hopes that as Valentine’s and even Easter come and go and we course the seasons to Christmas again, we will have learned to enrich our neighbors, ourselves, and our souls by supporting the good that is around us. The best love is local. If you must give, don’t mourn for an offshore ship – look up the street where our own bakers and brewers, writers and musicians, makers of fine cheeses and soaps and splendid wooden toys and ceramics and all manner of other artisanal wares wait to be discovered, and may their coffers ring loudly with a handsome plenty.

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