Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ring the Bells

“Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.” 
― Charles M. Schulz

On Christmas Eve I spent some time browsing through the New York Public Library's extensive digital archive of vintage holiday cards. Although I'm not a believer, I have many great memories of childhood Christmases. What I learned: In the early 1900s, bells and holly were common themes and the red and green "Christmas colors" were not yet set in stone. Cards came in blues, yellows, pinks — every imaginable color, really.

While you look at a few cards I liked, listen to Cat Power's version of my favorite Christmas song. It's about hope in a time of uncertainty, and the older I get the more I understand that this is our constant state.

Now, to the cards. Here's one I think of as the Rocking Horse Loser. Did I mention that many of the children depicted on old cards looked peculiar?

Here is a tinted photographic card. It's a bit like the family photo cards people send out these days...but off in an entertainingly wacky way.

This is my favorite of the cards I found (admittedly, there are over 1,500 more that I never got to). I love the way Santa, the children and the dog are piled into the little bedecked roadster — steering wheel on the right — and the little boy in what could be a bellhop's uniform is waving. The sender addressed it on Christmas Eve, 1906, but I can't quite make out the signature.

I'll leave you with the exquisite, haunting final paragraph of James Joyce's "The Dead," which begins at a holiday party and ends in eternity.
"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

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