It always astounds me how a lit Christmas tree in a house can one day feel like the herald of the mystery, magic and wonder of this life and then another day feel like yesterday’s discarded newspaper. In the same way, Bach can sometimes feel like sublime tonal architecture and other times like a jumble of notes. A lover’s body can excite, attract and awaken desire one day and feel like an unappetizing mass of naked flesh another. A practiced ritual can get you in a life-sustaining groove and then one day feel like mere routine and habit.
And so it appears that the material world alone, rich with our ornaments and decorations and sublime efforts to beautify and make things shine, is nothing without the spirit which surrounds it, without the way we invest things with meaning and beauty and attraction. It’s the mythology that surrounds the ritual acts and icons that make things luminous and when they drop away, from overuse or new perspectives or simply because the season is over, they lose their shine.
And so it was that I began to dismantle the Christmas tree and if I could, I would play the Czech Christmas record (yes, actual vinyl!) backwards to complete the ritual. But the fact is these particular songs would take me straight to the heart of Christmas spirit in the middle of July, such is their power. So as I lovingly laid the ornaments collected over 60 plus years in their box to rest for another year, I felt overtaken by it all yet again. My wife is insisting on the gradual fade-out, so there the tree still is just with lights and a lone Santa on top and I guess that’s okay for a couple of days. But truly, it is time to move on and maybe Three Kings Day and Saturday is the marker and on to another King—Martin Luther, that is.
At school today, we continued a few New Year’s rituals while Sofia spoke about El Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos while preparing the first of our Martin Luther King songs and as so often happens, the mix of traditions in our global perspective must be so damn confusing for the kids:
“And so Martin joined three other Kings—Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar— to walk the 12 Days of Christmas with three French hens, eight maids milking and twelve drummers drumming along with The Little Drummer Boy, stopping at an Inn half way there to take a cup of kindness and sing Auld Lang Syne and after waking the baby up with all that drumming and squawking birds, marched over the bridge to Selma singing “Free at Last!” and arriving there in time for the Chinese New Year Celebration. Any questions?”
Well, why not? We can all use a little luminosity in our lives and the holidays help. But the greater task is to keep the light shining each and every day. As best we can.