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A Christmas blessing. December 25, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Each year at Christmas, we at Poor Richard’s Almanac—our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders—have made a tradition of sharing a letter written at Christmas by Fra Giovanni to his patron in 1513 with all of you. This tradition is borrowed from Tasha Tudor, the beloved children’s author and illustrator, who read Fra Giovanni’s letter aloud to her family and guests every year at Christmas. The beauty and wisdom it conveys make it a tradition worth preserving, as we think you’ll see:

“I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much that, while I cannot give, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it 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 a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take Joy!

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.”

This festive and joyful season, we wish the same for each other and for every one of you. God bless us every one!

       —Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders

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The ghosts of Christmas past. December 26, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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One of our Christmas traditions here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, is watching as many versions of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” as possible.

Our friend Ben also thinks a good deal about Santa Claus, after having had a run-in with him as a child. (Search for “I believe in Santa Claus: A true story by our friend Ben” for the story.) Just yesterday, I read in our local paper that a nearby township had defused a potential furor over setting up a creche by adding “secular” symbols like Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Frosty the Snowman to the display. I guess the reporter forgot that Santa Claus began life as a great saint, Saint Nicholas, who was anything but “secular.”

Anyway, our friend Ben was wondering what I’d ask Santa Claus for if he appeared, genie-like, and granted me one wish. Our friend Ben loves Christmas. My answer came to mind immediately. Like Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” I’d like to be visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past. Not to be shown my past failings, but to have a chance to see again the Christmases I’d loved:

* Reading “A Christmas Carol” aloud every year with my beloved mama and siblings, and howling with laughter over Stave One, where Scrooge is so horrible.

* Acting out “A Christmas Carol” with my siblings with our troll dolls. Mine was always Scrooge.

* Hanging the stocking I’d received as a two-month-old on the mantel of the fireplace in my bedroom every Christmas, with a roaring fire in the fireplace. Trying to stay awake, but always, even in college, waking to find the stocking mysteriously filled. (Our friend Ben is by no means the brightest bulb on the string. It took a couple of decades to think through to the fact that Mama always got up between 4 and 5 a.m., and no matter how long our friend Ben may have lain awake, I was sure to be asleep by then.)

* Welcoming my beloved grandparents for the holiday, Grandaddy bearing quail—that most delicious of birds—as a special treat, and super-hot sausage made by a neighbor that was better than any I’ve ever eaten since.

* Gandaddy ceremoniously mixing up our Simms family eggnog, so thick and creamy you had to eat it with a spoon, so heavy on the bourbon we kids only got as much as would go in our silver baby cups. The eggnog was always carried in procession to our frigid porch to chill overnight, then just as ceremoniously brought back in and stirred just before serving.

* The yummy, many-layered Linzer torte and heavenly chocolate petits fours my father’s mother gave us every year. We only got these treats once a year, and never got enough of them. Even now, I long for them at Christmas, and wish someone were still sending them here.

* Mama’s delicious Christmas-only treats: homemade fudge, penuche (brown sugar fudge), bourbon balls, rum pie, pecan pie, rahad lakhoum (a special treat for my father, but we loved it, too), chocolate yummy rummies (a rich cross between a mousse and a pudding).

* Fruit from all the relatives: oranges and grapefruit from Aunt Ethel, glaceed apricots from Aunt Bernice, dates and nuts from Uncle Millard, pears and pineapple from Aunt Betty. Yum!!!

* Watching Mama make the iconic fruitcakes, with what seemed to the youthful Ben to be an endless number of steps and an inconceivable number of fantastic ingredients, all for a result I considered inedible. But the process was magic.

* The arrival of the flaming plum pudding and hard sauce at the end of Christmas dinner. Like fruitcake, plum pudding struck our friend Ben as inedible, but the sugary, bourbon-laced hard sauce was quite another matter.

* Decorating the house. We had three trees, each decorated differently: a very formal gold-and-silver tree in the living room, a red-themed tree in the dining room, and a wonderful tree with every kind of ornament, including the many we kids had made, in our keeping room. Decorating the trees, and then sitting around them with fires blazing in each room, was fantastic. And decorating all the mantels and chandeliers was fantastic, too, expecially since we used the magnolia, boxwood, nandina (heavenly bamboo) berry sprays, holly, cones, and pine from our own property.

* Hanging out with Grandma and Grandaddy, my heroes.

* Hearing Santa land on the roof on my seventh Christmas. (Again, check out my post “I believe in Santa Claus” for the story.)

* Singing carols and sledding down the hill in the backyard of my childhood home with my beloved cocker-springer spaniel cross, Hapilus, my very first dog. (Hapilus, no fool, would wait ’til I’d dragged the sled back up the hill, then jump on it and fly down by himself, knowing that I’d have to drag it back up again. He loved it.)

* Eating snow cream, a concoction my mother made  from fresh snow, milk, sugar, and vanilla.

* All the glorious Christmas dinners with our antique china, crystal, and silver. The food was fantastic, and we only got to use that table setting at Thanksgiving and Christmas, so it was very magical, especially with all the silver and brass candlesticks blazing and a fire beside the Christmas tree.

* Waiting up to watch Midnight Mass broadcast from the Vatican.

And, of course:

* Opening our presents on Christmas morning. They were always amazing!

These seem like more riches than anyone deserves. Scaling back, our friend Ben would ask Santa for a chance to see my mama, my grandparents, and my dog Hapilus celebrating Christmas again. But then, I suppose I see them all, waking and sleeping, every Christmas of my life. It’s one reason I love Christmas so.

If you could ask Santa for one gift, what would it be?