Do you hear what we hear? Yes, above the unsettling
background buzz of politicians and pundits in unending news cycles, you’ll
hear it: the soft, sweet sounds that reside in the mind’s ear, gently yet
insistently calling us home for the holidays.
Sights, smells, tastes and touch can all magically summon
memories of people and places, moments and moods.
But memories can also be stirred and summoned by sounds:
by festive songs, both sacred and secular … by hushed tones sharing holiday
secrets and surprises … by unabashed exultations as children round corners
into everyday rooms made magical one night a year … by emotional reunions,
as families and friends claim again, if only for a day or two, the closeness
denied them for much of the year by other duties, other places.
Other seasonal sounds take us back: the steady crackle
and startling pop of an awakening wood fire. The crunch of late autumn’s
laggard leaves underfoot. The amalgam of animated voices, rising and
falling, as family and friends bustle breathlessly from the chilled darkness
into the warm light of a holiday home.
During this season, magical memories can also emerge in
quiet places. In the blessed silence outdoors as midnight approaches, foggy
breath filling the night air, sparkling stars filling the night sky. And
indoors too, in a dark family room, the showy holiday tree now a shadowy
prop, the lively wood fire now a skeleton of scattered embers, dying on the
hearth, as sleepy children, exhausted, nod off in the warm darkness, the
day’s excitement now a world of dreams.
As the close of 2017 approaches,
we extend a long tradition, and herewith offer a few selections from
much-loved works celebrating sounds of the season.
Opening the gate, we tread briskly along the lone country
road, crunching the dry and crisped snow under our feet, or aroused by the
sharp, clear creak of the wood sled, just starting for the distant market,
from the early farmer’s door, where it has lain the summer long, dreaming
amid the chips and stubble … .
— Henry David Thoreau, “A Winter Walk,” 1843.
“I knew it before I got out of bed,” she says, turning
away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. “The
courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing;
they’ve gone to warmer country, yes indeed … .” It’s always the same: a
morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially
inaugurating the Christmas time of year that exhilarates her imagination and
fuels the blaze of her heart, announces: “It’s fruitcake weather!”
— Truman Capote, “A Christmas Memory,” from Selected
Writings of Truman Capote, 1956.
Christmas began when pecans started falling. The early
November rains loosened the nuts from their outer shells and sent them
plopping like machine gun bullets on the roof of the
veranda … And so you lay there, listening to the drip drip of rain and plop
plop of nuts, feeling something good is going to happen, something good and
it won’t be long now.
— Lillian Smith, “Tree-Shaking Day,” from Memory of a
Large Christmas, 1961-’62.
The bobsled would move off, creaking over the
frost-brittle snow ... As the horses settled into a steady trot, the bells
gently chiming in their rhythmical beat, we would fall half asleep, the hiss
of the runners comforting. As we looked up at the night sky through
half-closed eyelids, the constant bounce and swerve of the runners would
seem to shake the little stars as if they would fall into our laps.
— Paul Engle, “An Iowa Christmas,” from Prairie
I had scarcely got into bed when a strain of music seemed
to break forth in the air just below the window. I listened, and found it
proceeded from a band … They went round the house, playing under the windows
…The sounds, as they receded, became more soft and aerial, and seemed to
accord with quiet and moonlight. I listened and listened — they became more
and more tender and remote, and, as they gradually died away, my head sank
upon the pillow and I fell asleep.
— Washington Irving, “Christmas Eve,” from The Sketch Book, 1819.
ower across the land.