The stockings are hung. There is a large balsam fir in the doorway that never gets used between the office and the dining room covered with all manner of sparkly flotsam and jetsam. It serves as a fairly decent record of where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing with much of my life. There are lights around the front window which is more than I planned on doing, but there was a spare strand of these pearlized things left over from the bookstore, you see. I had to do something with them. There are gnomes in the upstairs hall and my only mildly disturbing collection of strange Belsnickles and St Nicks are glaring out from the library shelves. And the house smells like maple sugar and cinnamon and fir tree. All this is to say that it is Midwinter here in Vermont.
This is a winter holiday of many firsts for me. My first in this house I love fiercely, in this town and state that feel like home though I’d never spent even a night here before I up and bought this, my first, house. It’s my first winter holiday alone, divorced after three decades of not particularly great holidays together. My first with no demands, if I don’t count the Zoom gingerbread house competition my siblings have bulldozed me into… and I’m not counting that… because I have no intention of cooperating. (But don’t tell them that.)
It is also the first time I have ever been able to do what I want on the portion of the holiday that I honor — Mother’s Night, Christmas Eve, Midwinter. My now-ex father-in-law, bless his goofy heart, was born on 24 December. He seems to have had no birthdays prior to starting his own family, at which point there was subsequently no Christmas Eve. When I married into the family, I did not fully comprehend that this portion of the holiday would be summarily dropped from my life. But I made do… as one does.
Still, it was always a bit sad. I don’t go in for gifts though I do wrap a mighty fine package. I am not a churchy type though I do love Midnight Mass and the caroling. I love being in the kitchen; but I don’t much like being in other kitchens than my own, and I’ve rarely been in my home for the holidays. I really don’t like large gatherings of any sort, and holiday parties seem to me to be the worst sort. I can’t even ingest much of the stuff served at these gatherings, not without dire repercussions anyway… No, my connection to Midwinter is most viscerally felt through quietly cozying up to the fire with the tree twinkling in the corner and a mug of ginger tea steaming at my elbow and losing myself in stories. And this is what has been largely missing from my Midwinters.
So now I get to revel. I am reading my collections of winter folk tales and myths — and so many of the greatest stories we’ve told since writing things down are set at Midwinter. I’ve dug out my Dickens and Andersen. I even found my copy of Skipping Christmas (which sadly is just as annoying as the last time I read it… oh well). I have an at least three foot tall pile of illustrated children’s books on the winter holidays, all containing beautiful images and heartbreakingly lovely stories. I pulled out Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child just to savor her language. And there are all these songs celebrating the best of ourselves, the people we want to be.
On Midwinter’s Eve I will finally get to eat tamales and light candles and brew tea and just read with Anonymous 4, Chanticleer, Medieval Bæbes and Música Antigua de Albuquerque singing a soft accompaniment. If I’m still awake at midnight maybe I’ll stroll down to St Monica’s and see if Vermont Catholics can sing. Or maybe I’ll wander off into the winter birch wood and visit the fairy well. In any case, I will be in my heaven. By my solitary hearth…
I wish you your own personal heaven on this night of nights. I hope it includes stories!
for 22 December 2021
You can respond in the comments below or make a Twitter post to the Wednesday Word. Either way, begin your response with #Midwinter. Your response can be anything made from words. I love poetry, but anything can be poetic and you needn’t even be limited to poetics. An observation, a story, a thought. Might even be an image — however, I am not a visual person, so it has to work harder to convey meaning. In the spirit of word prompts, it’s best if you use the word; but I’m not even a stickler about that. Especially if you can convey the meaning without ever touching the word.
If responding in Twitter, you are limited to the forms of Twitter. I would prefer that there be no threads because that is difficult. So if you have something long, post it in the comments below. That said, please don’t go too long. Keep it under 2000 words. I’m not going to count, but I’m also not promising to read a novel. Unless it’s really good!
If I receive something particularly impressive, I’ll post it next week. If not, well, that’s fine too. I know you all are busy. But if you’ve read this far, then I’ve made you think about… Midwinter.
she bends over this cradle caroling incantation with church chimes at midnight she soft brushes skin gentling night terrors away with the hunting grey mare she calls my name murmuring true hope and i dream of roses in snow this cardinal song-rain ‘neath midwinter stars gleams through the rime-covered night beckoning home-ward the near and the far and sets christmas wishes alight
©Elizabeth Anker 2021