By John Dodds
Christmas kick-started my 50-year love affair with poetry, and although it’s no longer chestnuts roasting on an open fire, or listening to yuletide carols being sung by a choir, it’s still a time where feelings rise to the surface—and that’s what poetry is all about. For a teenager in the Air Force, stationed in Alaska, it was a dark, cold, lonely holiday season when I penned my first poem on a Christmas card sent to a home I would never get back to.
Retired now in Mexico, the customs differ from those of my Canadian and American roots.
The fiesta on the Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe, December 12, and the Día de Reyes on January 6, are the season’s bookends, and in-between a storied celebration of family, friends, and music. Here on the shores of Lake Chapala, family, although residing much closer to the North Pole, through the luxury of technology are ever present, while friends in the village are a constant celebration, not limited to a holiday season, and the music—well that’s another story.
Over time Christmas morphed into Xmas, and holidays became dependent on my circumstances, but somehow it never went away, that spirit of a moment in time, it lingered in the memory box where good times are stored—waiting. I never really rejected the idea of Christmas; like the Puritans who outlawed it, or Castro banning it for over twenty five years when he decided it was interfering with the sugar harvest.
December 25th was first arbitrarily recognized as a moment to ritualize in the year 336 by the Christian Emperor Constantine. Over the centuries the celebration has managed to fulfill our collective need to gather with family and friends in one form or another, be it Christmastide, Navidad, The Festival of Lights, or Eid.
Well into middle age the spirit re-emerged with a vengeance, with the surprise of my son, born on Remembrance Day, a gift that kept on giving through that holiday season, and many, many more to follow. I never really had the opportunity to live that Christmas feeling other than in my imagination, until I was able to experience it through the eyes of a little boy. Now it is a season of remembrance, that makes one subtly aware of the changes in our lives; grown children with children of their own, friends no longer at the table but always in our hearts, and the present life in a village called home, gift wrapped with all of the love we’ve had to share.
As for the music, on cool, snowless evenings in Ajijic, I throw a log on the fireplace, light up the stick tree decorated with bulbs for the cats to play with, and in moderation turn on Johnny, Frankie, Bing, and Ella. Mi esposa, who worked in retail for many years where the seasonal tirade of holiday music ramps up once the BOO is off the shelves, refuses to shop in Walmart once the music begins, and starts to shiver hearing; ‘Dreaming of a White Christmas’ more than once.
Except for my enjoyment of liturgical music, and having to listen to Ave Marie one too many times—trying my partner’s patience, on Noche Buena there’s no Santo Clós, no single star shining bright in our lives any more, just that feeling we can, at least for one more day, feel the last stanza in my first poem: “It wasn’t really long ago / when Holidays brought that certain glow / and all was not a frame of mind, / that only came at Christmas time.”