Photos by M. Cynecki
Anybody who warned of Confederates bearing gifts never met me at the Victorian Christmas Ball. Slung around my shoulders is a haversack full of cards written out to every family I can remember who touched my life in some way during the past year. The process is like a rosary, counting blessings and prayers in ink before the signature.
I flirted with the idea of coming in my kilt -- my Stewart tartan has a better Christmas look and feel. Yet I know I'll be summoned to take part in the annual 1st Virginia Christmas skit, which requires the proper attire. One must sacrifice. And yet the gray wool doesn't reflect the joy of the season or the light which I long to be.
Coffee has lifted my energy, but man doesn't live by Folger's alone. It takes something more to dance every number on the card: "House Of Burgesses," "Chase The Squirrel," "The Road To Edinburgh," "The Cookie Dance," "The Candy Cane Dance," a Virginia Reel and then another Virginia Reel... thirty... minutes... long.
"It's the hardest dance I've ever done," my friend and partner Madame Noire observes. She cannot believe my stamina. I can hardly stand at times, but I will endure.
"There's harder dances," I point out, noting she took to contra dancing with barely a catch.
"All the hoopskirts," she notes. She is fascinated by how the Victorian ladies carry themselves so well through so much liveliness and still stay so beautiful.
This time of year kicks off a holiday madness we beset upon ourselves, a whirlwind of shopping and parties and decorating and giving and serving. You would think such a gargantuan level of celebration would connect more of us to JESUS, like it's supposed to. Yet New Year's Day rolls around, and by mid-January we're unplugged once more in the fields of frost and snow, fully exposed to the emptiness of winter when so much is dead around us, including our spirits. The job is done, and we're exhausted, depleted people. Our work is finished until next November.
"Do you decorate for Christmas?" a friend asks.
"Not really," I explain, then correct myself. "Not at all. First, I just don't have the storage space in that apartment for all the decorations, and even if put up a tree, it doesn't have all the decorations my brother and I made as kids all those years ago. Some of those are paper, and I don't know how they continue to hold up. My parents' home is where the tree is." And also the manger scene, and the winter town on the fireplace mantle with the stockings hung in the other room, and the holly and the lights wherever they may fit.
Great joy, true joy, comes from above... and from a few lively dances, dear words to dear friends, and the warmth of all of us caroling together.
"Silent night... Holy night... "
"Take a look at all the people around you," our host says, "and remember this moment."