For I Have Sung My Child To Dream

Life is best accompanied by this song lately. Push play while you read the poem.

From this lovely book:

Far, Far From Bethlehem
by Norma Farber

I never went to Bethlehem.
I stayed right here. I plumped a goose,
put up preserves, measured a hem,
retrieved a piglet running loose.

I washed the laundry, hung it neat,
then took it down by dark of day,
and folded it and laid it, sweet
and fresh for further use, away.

I never got to Bethlehem.
Someone, I thought, should (day and night)
be here, someone should stay at home.
I think I probably was right.

For I have sung my child to dream
far, far away from where there lies
a woman doing much the same.
And neither of our children cries.

Christmas seems an especially poignant time to be a mother. Traditions are on our minds: how to build them, what kind of memories we want to help create for our children. Even the babies' eyes light up at the sight of the colorful decorations, the tree, the snowman's jolly face. Polly dances merrily to old Celtic wassailing songs and Rudolph alike. We have the desire to fill this season with a little mystery, a lot of cheer, good food, little surprises, striking songs that bury themselves into the fabric of our memories. 

Additionally, many of us living in our own personal post-christian eras find ourselves contemplating the challenge of searching for meaningful ways to introduce ancient ideas about winter celebration, the solstice, and yuletide, while also maintaining the fun and celebratory nature of society's current conception of Christmas.

Mary's latest post addresses this dilemma and is filled with festive ideas for incorporating nature and folklore into her household's December. After expounding upon the traditions they are forging, she wraps it up, like she always does, so eloquently:
It might seem all a little mish mashy, and perhaps it is. I think some of that firmness I was hoping for may come with the passing of years, a natural result of the repetition. I am perfectly okay with our celebrations being in flux and evolving. How it feels is what’s most important to me, and it feels good. Joyous, playful, anticipatory, intimate, sweet and full of love.

Recently I read this little book: Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas, by Bill McKibben. Even as a slow reader with not much time on my hands, I read it in one evening. I found it interesting and thought-provoking, full of bits of history about the ever-evolving concoction that is Christmas, and also inspiring. It proposes an approach to Christmas that I've always considered: scaling down, focusing on the joy of experiences, quality time, handmade gifts, but puts it in such simple and wonderfully compelling terms that I kind of felt there was no turning back. Once you consider that Christmas as we know it today was basically manufactured in the 1800s as a consumptive scheme, boosted immensely by the newly developed psychology of advertising in the early twentieth century, you're basically kind of disgusted by the whole machine of it, if you weren't already. I've always known Christmas to be about a whole lot more than Santa Claus and presents, preferring to stretch out the period of celebration and strive to fill the days with a pervasive spirit of joy. But this book still really struck me, and I can certainly do a lot better at not giving in to the consumption scheme.

A question McKibben challenges us to ask ourselves is this: What am I made for? He proposes we are made for peace and solitude, connection with each other and our communities, contact with nature, and a relationship with the divine. He presents Christmas as a perfect platform to develop these deeply meaningful aspects of human life. 

Perfect, that's exactly how I'd like to see it.

I especially love the idea of togetherness, connecting with our little tribes and our larger communities. The Placerville Christmas parade is a fun way for us to do just that. We watch the three area high schools' marching bands who come together in one massive booming beating dancing mass of triumphant music, sending goosebumps down my skin. We hold the babies up to see beautiful paint ponies, expertly prancing with pawing hooves at the sky. We see our beloved wagon train, our bearded cowboy stagecoach driver, Davey "Doc" Wiser, who waves and shouts Merry Christmas. We see the cast of our local theater's production of Oliver, and little Oliver himself who runs up to give candy canes to Tootie and Utah just because they're so darn cute. Everyone in town seems to march or ride in the parade, from the local markets to the police force to the Girl Scouts and 4H clubs. The parade stretches on for hours. With such little ones, we don't stay to see Santa at the end, but we sure feel festive and merry anyway.

More togetherness: Nancy hosts our annual Bookery Christmas party at her house. The babies immediately find little glass breakables, the tall staircase, fragile ornaments, rippable Christmas presents. They won't stay at the table or eat the (delicious) eggplant Parmesan, but they sure love the flourless chocolate cake!

A time for our tribe, another new mother's moment of rebirth. CarolAnn brought her sweet sweet baby boy Elan to visit us. She never went to Bethlehem either; she sang her little babe to sleep. Tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace. All the words to the carols ring differently in my ears these days, deeper and sweeter. The nativity story will always hold a special place in my heart. Lucy loves the little baby Jesus. We love all babies around here.

Another party, Scott's birthday: more friends, cousins, babies, laughter. These two rascals kept us busy! Actually, let's be honest, Scout is not a rascal at all. She is the gentlest creature known to man. Luckily she likes my girls anyway, despite their overbearing hugs and kisses and left hooks and toy thefts. Her patience and curiosity abide.

And meanwhile, the mundane acts of daily life seem sacred to me sometimes. Maybe the drama of winter's arrival bring it all into sharper focus: there is a succinct starkness to the short passing days. We fill them up with love and practicality, Christmas or no. We chop and stack wood in preparation for this big storm that is upon us, bring things inside, cook soup, batten down the hatches. I guess "rain" is all we need to say, since this big storm with all its hype didn't really hit us here, but we are organized and our yard is cleaned up anyway. We have candles and lanterns and a raging fire in the woodstove, food to eat and fresh diapers. Our rainy day today was full of library books and blanket forts, soup and tamales, elderberry syrup, sorting clothes, dolly rides and drawings, music all the while. Darin was home, he learned to play Auld Lang Syne on his guitar; he worked on making my Christmas gift. Tiny bits of love fill up the day. 

I washed the laundry, hung it neat. 
Measured a hem, retrieved a piglet running loose...

....and sung my child to dream.


Rachel Weaver said…
I may have missed my chance this year, but I am ordering that book and going to try desperately to change that one tradition. I want togetherness and and intention and the spiritual. I don't want plastic or electronics or wrapping paper.
Brooke said…
Do you have the Sting album on a winters night? I love it and the song 'hush child...'
Brooke, I love that album!
Val said…
Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem! It really captures the peace and beauty of motherhood and this season so wonderfully! Do you have any recommendations of certain Celtic wassailing songs? I'd love to find some youtube videos or a pandora station featuring this music, but I'm not sure what to look for. Thanks so much! - Val

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