Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap…
So opens that most charming and cheering of Yuletide poems, published anonymously in 1823. I think we’d be hard-pushed to find anyone not at least passingly familiar with these famous festive lines. Or, for that matter, anyone whose heart doesn’t offer even the faintest flutter at the sound of these verses so steeped in seasonal nostalgia.
Ever since last weekend, Husband and I have been listening on loop to a lilting and lyrical new Christmas song by Coldplay. Husband especially is a fierce believer in the brilliance of this band, and sure enough as the notes of Christmas Lights floated through the floors of our house, there was their usual ability to assimilate a haunting/ catching tune and let’s-think-about-them lyrics.
Husband has entered a hoary war… with squirrels. And it’s a battle (he tells me) that’s going to get bloody. The back-story is that as soon as we moved into our house, Husband got into some husbandry, by which I mean some casual taking care of the critters in our yard. Feeders were flushed clean and filled with (expensive! organic!) seed and the wooden house (Weekend Retweet!) was washed and wired into position. But even as he handled the hairy rope, wrapping it around a sturdy-looking branch, lots of little eyes were looking hard at Husband from all around: the squirrels were registering their reconnaissance.
For all the high-jinx jolliness of this time of year, late December can be tension territory. Fun friends or family get-togethers can get all together less fun when cousin comments on something she shouldn’t, or brother and sister start bickering about a thing over the brandy butter and mince pies. Putting lots of people into a space and filling them up on food and booze can sometimes add fuel to the fire of seasonal stress, and tips for taking the testiness down some notches are appearing everywhere right about now. The salient point to stick to I suppose is that a picture-perfect holiday gathering is a cheesy movie myth, and nothing more.
We’re right in the time when round robins and family group shots are rolling through our letter-boxes. And how I like getting these little glimpses into things people have been doing, and seeing people pop up all primped and preened and shining into the lens. I suppose the family freeze-frame is a chance to take stock of a moment in time, get someone into a snowman tie and spread paper smiles to people far away. While you can go all-out for the photo op (the Kardashians’ 2010 Christmas card is a case in point), a simple portrait with the relevant peeps does just as well.
Winter for me means layers: under, middle, over-the-top Michelin-man layers. You name it, I’ve strapped and wrapped it around my person as soon as the first flake flutters to the floor. There are precious few concessions to style or sexiness when the season turns against me: my coat is only form-fitting because it’s hotter inside that way.
Scenes of St Sebastian are two-a-penny in art history… and if that sounds flippant, let me explain. He’s a popular subject for a few stand-out reasons: since he’s often shown shot-through with arrows (according to the manner of his martyrdom) his nakedness allows artists to let loose on anatomical know-how, slipping in sinews and skin textures and all sorts (especially so as the scientific bent of the Renaissance set in). There’s also the ancient angle: Sebastian was a Christian killed at the time of Emperor Diocletian (he died around 288), so often there’ll be a smattering of columns and some rubble of old ruins, attesting to an artist’s instruction in the arts of ancient Greece and Rome.