Christmas tree and Custom House clock-tower

Apparently I love this photo of the Quincy Market Christmas tree so much, I included it as the December image for both my 2015 and 2016 calendar. Every December, I pick 13 images from the previous year–12 months plus a cover–for a wall calendar I give to friends and family for Christmas, and this year I was so short of festive December images, I inadvertently recycled this one, which I shot on Black Friday, 2014.

Lit trees

As the days of December wane, I’ve been scrambling to cross things off my to-do list. December is the busiest time of the semester: I spent the first two weeks of the month commenting on essay drafts so my students could revise and submit their final portfolios, and now I’m in a mad dash to finish grading those portfolios before Christmas. Forget about my two front teeth: all I want for Christmas this year is to be done with grading so the real relaxation and recovery of winter break can begin.

Quincy Market Christmas tree

But before that, there have been other obligations: vet visits, routine car maintenance, and the holy trinity of Christmas shopping, Christmas wrapping, and Christmas cards. Family and friends know our so-called Christmas cards usually arrive around New Year’s, and those aforementioned wall calendars typically arrive sometime in January. As the days of December wane, my personal philosophy leans heavily toward “Better late than never.”

Keep Calm and Drink Up

This afternoon I submitted another batch of fall semester grades: four classes down, two to go. My next and final grade deadline is Thursday afternoon, which means I technically could spend Christmas day grading papers, but even my Inner Ebenezer isn’t that much of a Scrooge. I’ll be keeping my laptop OFF over Christmas, so here’s hoping you have a happy one. I’ll see you (and my remaining paper piles) when I’m back online on the 26th.

Snow-bowed

A twiggy tree clings to ornaments of frozen snow nestled among strings of ice-blue Christmas lights.

This is my Day Seventeen submission to a river of stones, a month-long challenge to notice (and record) just one thing every day. I’ll be posting my “stones” both here and on Twitter, where submissions are tagged as #aros. Enjoy!

Christmas window display

Now that Thanksgiving is past and December is imminent, I’ve begun listening to Christmas music on my weekly drives between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I have a handful of CDs I listen to during the Christmas season, including Sting’s “If On a Winter’s Night” and my friend Frank Wallace’s “Joy: Carols and Songs.” But the recording I listen to time and again during December is the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Christmas window display

When most folks my age remember the soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the song they’re most likely to remember is “Linus and Lucy,” the upbeat jazz number that is the Peanuts’ theme song. “Linus and Lucy” is catchy and infectious, with a tempo that causes beagles to dance…but it’s not my favorite song on “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The reason I play this particular CD so often during the month of December has nothing to do with dancing beagles but with a relatively downbeat song called “Christmas Time Is Here.”

There are two versions of “Christmas Time Is Here.” The vocal version features a choir of children singing slow but sweet lyrics:

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

Christmas window display

The instrumental version of the song, however, is the one I love…and what I love about it isn’t the fact that it’s sweet but the fact that it’s sad. Like all the Charlie Brown television specials, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” focuses on a lonely, loser kid; as I’ve said before, “As a ‘weird kid,’ I always related to Charlie Brown with his loser ways and ‘blockhead’ inferiority.” The instrumental version of “Christmas Time Is Here” captures the melancholy mood of being the one weird, lonely kid who sees Christmas as being a bittersweet time.

The instrumental version of “Christmas Time Is Here” sounds like a Christmas song, but it doesn’t sound like a children’s song. That’s what I like about most of the tunes on “A Charlie Brown Christmas”: they sound like songs grown-ups would listen to. To my ear, “Christmas Time Is Here” is the kind of song you’d listen to if you found yourself alone in a bar on Christmas Eve, a bartender and a stiff drink your only companions. “Christmas Time Is Here” acknowledges that the holidays are a sweet and happy time for most people…but it also admits that the holidays have a melancholy edge for folks who don’t have families, or are separated from their families, or are otherwise alone or outcast.

Christmas window display

What I don’t like about the Christmas songs that are played incessantly in shopping malls and on radio stations right about now is their forced frivolity. Yes, the holidays can be happy, but must they be? What about all the folks who aren’t happy over the holidays, or what about happy folks who occasionally like a break from general merriment?

Shopping mall Christmas songs always strike me as having an ulterior motive, as if they are designed to keep people manically happy, happy, happy so they’ll keep shopping, shopping, shopping. Songs like “Christmas Time Is Here,” on the other hand, allow room for bittersweet introspection. The song isn’t outright depressed or depressing, but it admits that grown-ups might face the holidays with mixed feelings as they remember with nostalgia their own childhoods and face the loneliness, disappointment, and other downbeat emotions that Christmas can inspire.

Christmas window display

I have nothing against dancing beagles, but this time of year more than ever, I find myself relating to the kind of kid whose best friends include that aforementioned beagle and a sensitive, blanket-toting philosopher. Charlie Brown is the kind of kid who chooses the puniest, most pathetic-looking twig for his Christmas tree just because it needs a home, and “Christmas Time Is Here” is the kind of song you’d listen to, stiff drink in hand, while you decorated that kind of tree.

Today’s photos come from the always-lovely Christmas displays at Creative Encounters in downtown Keene. Enjoy!

Festive

My fall semester grades are submitted, my Christmas cards and packages have been safely sent their merry ways, and a fresh batch of online classes has been prepped for the New Year. Despite today’s mild temperatures, we’ll have a white Christmas here in Newton thanks to last weekend’s snowstorm, and I’ll be stepping away from my laptop for a much-needed break this weekend. Here’s hoping your holiday is restful and happy.

Get your kicks

Surely it says something about my priorities that the best photo I took during Sunday’s rainy Patriots game was an image of high-kicking, Santa-suited cheerleaders. Why settle for “ho, ho, ho” when you can have “rah, rah, rah”?

Click here for a photo-set of appropriately blurry images from Sunday’s gray and drizzly game. Enjoy!

Christmas display

Usually, I have an attitude of “bah humbug” when stores debut their Christmas displays before Thanksgiving. In my mind, displaying too much Christmas too early simply pushes the hand of time, and that’s never a good thing. Instead of pushing consumers to think about Christmas months before the first snowflake falls, I personally believe businesses and their customers alike should follow “a predictable and leisurely seasonal succession, with September bringing fall foliage, October bringing pumpkins, November bringing turkeys, and December bringing Santa.” No need to rush into a season that will arrive on its own eventually.

All that being said, I make a blanket exception for the Christmas shop windows at Creative Encounters, an art-supply and frame shop on Main Street in downtown Keene. Over the years and in various seasons, I’ve taken lots of pictures of their window displays. The windows at Creative Encounters aren’t large, but they are always colorful, interesting, and attractive. Just as the mannequins at Miranda’s Verandah always catch my eye, I always find myself admiring whatever is on display at Creative Encounters.

Christmas display

The Christmas windows at Creative Encounters debuted last week, more than a week before Thanksgiving, and I for once am not complaining. On these dark and increasingly gray days, I’m grateful for the spot of color and sparkle these well-designed windows offer. This year’s display at Creative Encounters features a three-sided kiosk that rotates before a wall with several framed mirrors, an arrangement that highlights the various products on sale while also providing a moving, changing display of colors, shapes, and reflections. It might sound strange for me to admit that I stood several moments so I could see the colorful kiosk cycle through its various arrangements, but I wasn’t the only one. Before I could approach the window to snap these shots, Reggie and I held back for about five minutes while a woman and her daughter stood transfixed in front of the display, watching the artfully decorated kiosk turn around and around, offering a kaleidoscopic allure of light and color.