I’m not religious (except in the sense that Robert Lowell suggested in “My Heavenly Shiner”: “We were kind of religious, we thought in images”), yet Christmas for me remains a well of nostalgic emotion. It’s not about the dull hours I spent in our Lutheran church listening to the dry rote of the pastor’s sermons and the strangely passionless choir (joy was all right as a concept, it seemed, but something one should avoid expressing); it’s about the memories of music and lights and people we love, those we can embrace and those we can’t. Gifts, yes—though there have been years when gifts were few, and still the joy arrived.
Denise Levertov is one of the few poets I know who explicitly addresses the nature of joy:
You must love the crust of the earth on which you dwell.
You must be able to extract nutriment out of a sandheap.
You must have so good an appetite as this, else you will
live in vain.
Joy, the, “well … joyfulness of
I had not known it,” the woman of eighty
said, “only remembered, till now.”
In dark fields.
On Tremont Street,
on the Common, a raw dusk, Emerson
“glad to the brink of fear.”
It is objective,
stands founded, a roofed gateway;
away from it, stumble
again towards it not seeing it,
enter cast-down, discover ourselves
“in joy” as “in love.”
The great thing about joy is that its roots may go back to childhood but its energy is always new (think Henri Bergson‘s notion of “a flow of unforeseeable novelty“), so this season can be nostalgic and fresh at the same time. A good example of this is the video below, which came out four years ago and freshened, yet again, my non-religious but joyful feelings about Christmas.