There’s no other month quite like December. Its ability to captivate us with the sheer joy, cheer and merriment of the holiday season, while also nudging us ever so slightly to the realization that yet another year has passed, is certainly unique – but somehow inevitable, each time it rolls around.
Indeed, it is the month of December in which time in all of its confounding and mysterious forms can be most intensely experienced – signaling both the end of one year and the beginning of another – and filling us with a sense of both longing and renewed hope as we reflect back on the past and eagerly anticipate the promise of a New Year. How true the Aristotelian principle that “every moment is both the end of an era and the start of something new.”
But, as we try to cling to the joy of a season that so quickly evades our grasp, there exists a great amount of joy and hidden messages in the past, if one only looks. In fact, we can learn things from the past – things timeless and true that are beckoning to be brought forth with us into the present.
Take, for instance, Mary Campbells’ quaint little book, The New England Butt’ry Shelf Almanac, a timeless treasure that brings forth the warmth of a more simple time; in the chapter “December” she writes:
“The noonday sun, low in the southern winter sky, bathes the Old Kitchen with a warm light. There is an air of happy busyness about the house for presents are being wrapped, cards are handwritten…cookies are baked…wreaths are fashioned, friends greeted.”
There is something comforting and soothing to know that, while the passage of time has certainly brought forth boundless amounts of change in our fast-evolving world, the simple moments of a “southern winter sky” and the baking of cookies* documented nearly 46 years ago, when the book was published, are still readily applicable today.
Another more current, nevertheless timeless, treasure that our family has come to cherish during the holiday season is A Family Christmas by Caroline Kennedy, in which she shows through a selection of writings old and new, poems, lyrics, Bible passages and more, how “[t]he literature of Christmas ranges from the miraculous to the tragic, the profound to the ridiculous, but always represents the connection to something larger than ourselves.”
Indeed, a particular favorite of ours is the letters written by soldiers during the World War I Christmas Truce – during which “time stood still” as German and British soldiers ceased fighting to celebrate Christmas – taken from The London Times on January 2, 1915. How miraculous and profound is the line:
“…So there you are; all this talk of hate, all this fury at each other that has raged since the beginning of the war, quelled and stayed by the magic of Christmas. Indeed, one German said, ‘But you are of the same religion as me, and to-day is the Day of Peace!’”
It is books such as these that provide a much-needed reprieve from the relentless march of time, felt particularly strongly in the month of December before the ringing in of a New Year. Transporting us back to the “bygone” days and comforting us with their classic, timeless wisdom, such books enable us to see things in a new light – carrying part of their past into our present – and reminding us that, if one only looks, there are treasures all around.
Indeed, as recorded in Mary Campbell’s Almanac, Renaissance pioneer Fra Giovanni Giocondo wrote to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi on Christmas Eve in 1513, saying:
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take Heaven!
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take Peace!
The gloom of the world is but shadow. Behind it, yet within reach…is Joy.
There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see, and to see we have only to look; I beseech you to look.
Do you or your family have any favorite timeless, holiday treasures? We’d love for you to share them!
For the most delicious old-fashioned sugar cookies with butter frosting, pictured below, try our recipe:
Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies
Ingredients for cookies:
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs (room temperature)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
Instructions for cookies:
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add remaining dry ingredients. Chill dough at least 2 hours. Remove from refrigerator and let come to room temp. Roll cookies out on wax paper, sprinkled with flour to the thickness you like (we do about 1/8″). Cut with cookie cutter. Bake in 375-degree oven for 8-10 min. Let cool before frosting with butter frosting.
Ingredients for butter frosting:
4 tbsp. butter, softened
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
4 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Instructions for butter frosting:
Cream butter and then add half of the sugar along with half of the milk combining slowly; add the remaining sugar and milk a little at a time. Stir in the vanilla – and voila! Spread on cookies and add some sprinkles for a festive, holiday touch!