I’ve never lived in the tropics, but my friend has, and she’s remarked on the suddenness of nightfall in that region of the globe. A crepuscular walk in autumn’s lengthy twilight is a boon of Vermont living. The first solid snowfall of the year is another.
Now just a few days before Christmas, the other night my daughter and I were in Montpelier, in the frantic traffic, the rush of after-work shopping, and so this morning, when the snow began falling, one silent flake after another, the dawning day seemed filled with a particularly brilliant kind of light.
Whether we want the snow or not, it will come, and a snowstorm always sheds a certain silent grace. When my children were very small, more than anything, I wanted Christmas to be full of joy. Like so much else in my life, I’ve half succeeded and half utterly failed. We’ve had plenty of joy and lavish laughter, but the older I get, the more I understand joy travels hand-in-hand with sadness and grief, too — that the exquisite beauty of that snow carries a killing cold as well.
I think it’s taken me all these Christmases to understand the spirit of this season is so perfectly illustrated by Dylan Thomas’s “close and holy darkness,” and that the most miraculous aspects of this season are the profound mysteries upon mysteries unfolding despite (and perhaps in spite of) my own blind ignorance.
Today, watching the snow fall, my face upturned to the clouds, I remembered being ten-years-old and speculating with my sister about the origin of all those millions of snowflakes, drifting and twirling down. What did it look like, so high above our heads in those clouds?
And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim’s Aunt, Miss Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said, “Would you like anything to read?”
— Dylan Thomas, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”
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