When I was a child I had as good Christmases as any child ever had – the love of parents which anchored life, the tree with the star and the gleam of lights, the gifts in white pillow-cases found mysteriously early morning, the fat balloons flying and the decorated crèche, the spread of food and sweets and aromatic cake and even sips of wine allowed, the fragrances of Christmas, the hugs of old grands and aunts and tobaccoey uncles, the carols and immortal songs of Christmas, the sights and sounds of happiness. And Eleanor Farjeon’s little verse to keep us remembering others:
How will you your Christmas keep?
Feasting, fasting, or asleep?
Will you laugh or will you pray,
Or will you forget the day?
Be it kept with joy or pray’r,
Keep of either some to spare:
Whatsoever brings the day,
Do not keep but give away.
And as I have grown old and older still I have kept on enjoying Christmas more than I can say – 63 years I have lived in Guyana, 61 Christmases I have spent in this lovely country, this home. Every Christmas as long as I can remember my wife has created beauty and warmth and festival and feast, a comfortable and comforting season of faith and joy, for ourselves and the children and now the grandchildren. Come December I like how she shakes the house out, brightens everything and prepares for happiness.
And over the years I have collected the poems of Christmas, a special category of inspired writing which includes many of the great carols of Christendom. Here is one poem I discovered. It is by Leslie Norris:
Camels of the Kings
‘The Camels, the Kings’ Camels, Haie-aie!
Saddles of polished leather, stained red and purple,
Pommels inlaid with ivory and beaten gold,
Bridles of silk embroidery, worked with flowers.
The Camels, the Kings’ Camels!’
We are groomed with silver combs,
We are washed with perfumes.
The grain of richest Africa is fed to us,
Our dishes are silver.
Like cloth-of-gold glisten our sleek pelts.
Of all camels, we alone carry the Kings!
Do you wonder that we are proud?
That our hooded eyes are contemptuous?
As we sail past the tented villages
They beat their copper gongs after us.
‘The windswift, the desert racers. See them!
Faster than gazelles, faster than hounds,
Haie-aie! The Camels, the Kings’ Camels!
The sand drifts in puffs behind us,
The glinting quartz, the fine, hard grit.
Do you wonder that we look down our noses?
Do you wonder we flare our superior nostrils?
All night we have run under the moon,
Without effort, breathing lightly,
Smooth as a breeze over the desert floor,
One white star our compass.
We have come to no palace, no place
Of towers and minarets and the calling of servants,
But a poor stable in a poor town.
So why are we bending our crested necks?
Why are our proud heads bowed
And our eyes closed meekly?
Why are we outside this hovel,
Humbly and awkwardly kneeling?
How is it that we know the world is changed?
And there is one poem which I have long known which I look out on special days to remind me of what is the best thing in life, a gift of beauty greater than any other we can receive or give on Christmas day or any day. Love, of course, it is love.
It is a traditional Irish poem, Bennacht – Blessing, translated from the Irish by John O’Donahue.
On the day when
The weight deadens your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the curragh of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life…
Bless this great land of ours. Bless its people. Bless the children especially. Bless their future.