This past weekend has been packed full of Christmas movies and holiday concerts and, wow, it’s been a festive whirlwind. I’m relatively new to going to concerts to celebrate the season, but in the last couple of years, I’ve considered it an essential part of our celebrations. There’s something inexplicably warm and merry about gathering with others and listening to music and stories together. To some extent, its really made me feel part of this small arts community that we now call home.
Concerts also give me a break from thinking about all of the little things that need to be wrapped up in the next week and all of the tasks that still need to be completed. Worrying about a Christmas vacuum can sound ridiculous but ends up actually being incredibly stressful. My lovely spouse has even gotten out the duster, which means the cats are about to follow her around the house in a strange Christmas parade that leaves a fresh powdering of cat hair where formerly there was a respectable bit of dust.
On Excerpts and Commonplace Books
This last year I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping a commonplace book. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a commonplace book is a notebook that one fills with quotations and excerpts from one’s reading. I usually write in quotations I come across and then follow up with a few sentences of analysis or explanation as to why the words have made an impression on me. It’s given me an even greater appreciation of a beautifully constructed sentence, and it also has made me see that a good excerpt can make for a story in and of itself.
That’s partially why I decided to review not the entire Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame but, instead, focus on an excerpt of one particular chapter — chapter five, ‘Dolce Domum’. Or, as I affectionately refer to it, Mole’s Christmas — based on the animated special ITV put out sometime in the 1990s which I watch on YouTube every year to start the holiday season.
Mole is travelling home to the riverbank with Rat on a cold December night close to Christmas when he happens to get a whiff of the home he left behind several months before. Instantly, he becomes homesick and when Rat notices his distress he makes the impromptu decision to go to Mole End to have a small Christmas celebration in humble surroundings. Throw in some mouse carolling and the narrative is complete.
The chapter is a self-contained story that does not need the rest of the book to be enjoyed. It can stand alone as simple and cosy Christmas tale to be told on a cold winter night.
Part of the reason that it can be enjoyed separately from the book is because it is a wonderfully simple story. Rat and Mole go to the latter’s home. They entertain carollers, have a warm supper, and then go to bed in front of the fire. Not a lot happens, but what does happen is so exquisitely rendered. It’s Graham’s meditation on the concept of home and friendship, and it doesn’t need more to happen or more to chew on. The story is about the feeling of cosiness and being snug in a small cottage that may not be extravagant but is warm. There’s also the idea of traditions that one makes for themselves and the notion that home is always there waiting, no matter how far away we travel.
Simple narratives are not something to be avoided as unengaging or insipid. If they are done well, they can have much more of an impact than many more complex works.
One More Week
This year, we’ve been a bit behind on the preparations. Which means there is still some shopping to do long after we’re normally finished and all wrapped up. We’ve gotten a lot more work this year, but there’s been quite a bit more financial drain in the form of various car, cat, and house emergencies. Deadlines have been hard to balance and, while usually December is a slow month, it hasn’t been this year. We have work that has to be submitted well into this week and I am having a hard time wrapping my head around that.
I imagine that’s why the concerts are so welcome this year. It’s a chance to sit, hold my lovely spouse’s hand, and listen to the music of the moment.