The winter holidays are a time of traditions. Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s.
Times to celebrate, mark the passing of time, or launch new beginnings. These traditions can be quiet and meditative, as you sit alone and reflect on moments that are important in your life. Or they can be loud and boisterous, as you celebrate with groups of friends and neighbors.
For many years, I hosted a large Christmas gathering. I would bake for days. I fondly remember a delicious flour-less chocolate torte that was always a big favorite. Some years, a venison roast would center the table. Often there were oysters.
One year, I was in the midst of a remodeling so I simply strung white lights on the exposed rafters. No one cared. It was all about being together and getting dressed up.
The holiday festivities varied, but one tradition that never wavered was a trip to the beach on three specific days. Winter Solstice, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
For many years, I swam, unencumbered, no matter the weather or wave height. Then for another string of years, I donned a wet suit as the unencumbered swimming had begun to leave me chilled for hours. I remember the remark a friend made the first year I dipped in a wet suit. “Changing your tradition, are you? I noticed you wore a wet suit this year”…. He said. I was a little taken aback. I had not known anyone knew my tradition and especially did not know anyone saw me.
Nonetheless, I continued to jump in, clad or unclad depending on the water temperature.
After a string of breezy Decembers with the accompanying rough surf, I quit getting wet and simply walked. I miss the exhilaration of the freezing dip, but I also know my first responder friends would be really ticked off if they got called out to drag me out of the surf — and while a part of my brain thinks, “What a way to go,” another part of my brain thinks, “but not yet.”
After my brisk beach walk, I always head home to some yummy food (oysters!) and a good read.
Some are my seasonal favorites that I crack open again and again.
Others are newer releases that I look forward to adding to the holiday pile:
Paul Gallico Dunkirk
World War II. An artist, an abandoned lighthouse, young girl and a wounded snow goose. A touching and hopeful story. One of my mother’s favorite holiday reads.
“Night Before Christmas,”
illustrated by Jan Brett
The classic by Clement Clarke Moore in a lavishly illustrated edition. Usually includes a DVD with music by the Boston Pops and Jim Dale as narrator.
This island journal from the 1980s has a chapter about Old Christmas, the holiday traditionally celebrated in early-January.
Gull Island is a collection of stories by island native Elvin Hooper. One chapter, A Gull Island Christmas tells us the story of a 1950’s Hatteras Island Christmas, celebrated with off island guests and a tree decorated with treasures gathered from the beach.
”The Return of the Light,” Carolyn McVicker Edwards
Twelve stories from around the world celebrating the longest night and the shortest day, marking the turn of the seasons. A great book to enjoy on your own or to read aloud at a solstice celebration. Good one to share with the younger folks, too.
“The Poetry of Yehuda Amichai,” Yehuda Amichai translated by Robert Alter
An inspiring and hopeful book to be savored during this celebration of light and miracles. A contemporary take on the state of Israel and the human condition.
As for New Year’s Eve and Day, the thought of making a resolution to span a whole year, well that just makes me tired and depressed before the New Year is even 24 hours old. So the heck with that.
I find it works far better for me to pick one thought each day and strive to not screw it up too bad for just 24 hours.
I can celebrate that!
Some minimally depressing and largely encouraging books for the New Year:
“Little Book of Hygge. The Danish Book of Happy Living,” Meik Weiking
A sweet and pretty book that just feels cozy and good. Perhaps not life changing but then again, sometimes the simplest things can make the biggest difference.
“Checklist Manifesto,” Atul Gawande
About the art of managing too much in this age of information. Simple and brilliant.
Illuminates of life’s biggest little secrets. The idea is inspired. The real gift is in the hard work it takes to achieve it.
Gee Gee Rosell is owner of Buxton Village Books, 47918 Hwy. 12, Buxton. Visit buxtonvillagebooks.com or call (252) 995-4240.