A couple of days from now we’ll sneak up to, then creep past, that great celestial moment we call the winter solstice. The shift will be so subtle we won’t even notice it for a week or two, but nevertheless, it will happen: the earth’s axis will tilt again just as it has for billions and billions of years, and we’ll begin our annual ascent out of the dark, cold depths of winter and start our climb toward the light. This year, it seems to me that these winter days have been a bit colder and darker than usual. There’s the great political divide here at home and gruesome wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we’re all longing for a little more light.
But that kind of celestial musing is way above my pay grade. I’m down here trying to come to terms with more immediate events—Christmas, in particular. For several weeks now, its little drummer-boy drum beat has been growing louder and louder, and now it’s so close that I can’t ignore it any longer. I guess it’s time to start believing in that mysterious story again. You know the one I mean: the one about a pregnant mother and a bemused father and their trek to a tiny town called Bethlehem; about a baby born in a stable who is sleeping sweetly in a manger surrounded by gentle animals; thunderstruck shepherds and choirs of angels and three wise men who have emerged out of the East, following, believe it or not, a wandering star. That story. That wonderful story.
At least, that’s one version of the Christmas story. There is, of course, another version of the Christmas story, a much more secular one that begins on Black Friday and involves several weeks of commercial mayhem, spins through endless days overeating and drinking way too much eggnog, and only ends when a giant of a man who wears a red suit and lives at the North Pole with minions of toy-making elves drives a flying sleigh pulled by eight reindeer that comes screeching to a halt on your rooftop just so he can slip inside your cozy house via the chimney with a bulging bag of presents which he deposits under a fake tree in your living room just a day or two before your year-end credit card bill arrives in the mail. That story.
But in our family, there’s a third version of the Christmas story, and it involves—drum roll, please—gingerbread. Lots of gingerbread, in fact, an entire subdivision of gingerbread houses with candied roofs and icing eaves and pretzel fire pits, all designed and built by a boisterous horde of cousins who gather together at this time of year to renew their loving familial bonds while the adults in the room, the grandparents and aunts and uncles, do their own festive gathering while marveling at the newest baby in the bunch, or coming to grips with how grown up the older cousins are, or remembering the ones no longer with us. All those stories.
And in this year’s edition of the gingerbread version of story, there was even a bonus tale, one from our own relatively small branch of the family Christmas tree: an engagement to celebrate and another family to blend into the mix, a seamless addition to what one of my nephews referred to as “the annual chaos of Christmas.” Hallelujah!
So from our family to yours, on whatever winter holiday you choose to observe, or in the words of whichever Christmas story you like to tell, greetings of the season. May the year to come be merry and bright.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.