The Holidays: So Help Me, Muse . . . To Rhyme my News
I’m writing this little over a week before Thanksgiving, and I have already received in the mail my first Christmas card. Yes, I realize that downstairs in the mall above which I live the festive Yuletide decorations – the same ones as before — are even now being put in place. As usual, aside from decking the malls with boughs of holly, etc., there is a massive Hanukkah menorah on a second level, surrounded by large, fake presents, colorfully wrapped in silver foil and tied with big blue bows. When I passed the newly-assembled display, I thought I detected a whiff of mothballs.
Last year, my daughter and I wagered a modest bet as to whether the mall maintenance crew would light each candle of the menorah separately for the nine successive days of the Jewish holiday, or make a single ceremony out of it — one impressive electrical show on the initial day. I held to the latter assumption. She won. Somebody in authority actually materialized every evening of Hanukkah, as dictated by tradition, to see that another candle blazed. I was impressed — if a little poorer.
But if I was impressed with that, I am distressed with what seems to be the ever-advancing schedule for mailing out Christmas greetings. It used to be that I could reliably count on getting the first of these early in December, invariably from a friend who lives in Toronto, where I spent two frozen years in the early ‘70s. The reason for her jump on the season, she once explained, was that her grown children now live in the States. So when she visits them at Thanksgiving, she brings along all of the cards addressed to her American friends, with instructions to her kids to affix a US stamp before promptly dropping the envelopes into the nearest mailbox. This saves her a bundle in postage over what it would cost to send them from Canada.
But this year, she has been usurped. Even before Election Day, an acquaintance in Minnesota sent what wasn’t technically a “card,” but a long holiday-style letter, summing up his year and that of his six children and their children and even their children.
Yet, it’s made me nervous — for a particular reason. Every year, for at least the last 35, I have been composing my holiday greetings in verse. This takes time, frankly, and I often think of quitting what some have now come to regard, flatteringly, as a “holiday tradition,” akin to my late Aunt Fannie’s pearl onions at Thanksgiving dinner. I once suggested to a friend that I might stop the practice and she was outraged. But, honestly, how many different ways can one rhyme “rhyme” with “ holiday time”? Or cheer” with “year,” etc,?
Growing up, my children had mixed reactions to my annual effort. They seemed embarrassed to have their exploits condensed into a rhyming couplet. But when they left home and were relegated to only an occasionally mention in my holiday verse, they were put out. And I always had to be careful to give the three of them equal space. One year when my older daughter was hit by a car in a crosswalk, the clan actually wondered how I would write up the unfortunate incident, and if I could find any word to rhyme with “accident.” It was becoming a bit much.
But now, even as a widow, I persist. I’m not sure why, except that it has evolved into a challenge of wits. And of fear, possibly. “Don’t keep me out of the loop,” a British correspondent of mine warned a while back. “You know how I always look forward to your Christmas poem!”
And so, yes, I plead guilty to having already turned out several drafts, and in a different meter and rhyme scheme than those of last year’s piece. Variety spices life, even in small, poetic measures. And this year I plan to add something else: a photo of the clan taken during our summer outing. That ought to mitigate any literary slights from the offspring. And if they find fault with either picture or poetry, I’ll remind them that this is the season of peace on earth, good will toward Mom.
Christmas Card: Flickr: 1930 Christmas Card. Late 1940s Menorah by Chava Samuel, Israeli painter, ceramic sculptor. Wikimedia Commons
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