What I remember most about the simple Decembers when I was a little girl is (a) the toys on display at the nearest Otasco store and (b) Gene Autry singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” on the radio. Oh, how much more complicated and glorious the month has become. So many more faiths and cultures to celebrate.
When I worked at Tulsa Ballet Theatre, December was a numbing month of fatigue after a month of tours of “The Nutcracker” throughout the region, two weeks of performances at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center and an annual year-end sinus infection. In the midst of this, some enterprising journalist always called to ask the cost of ten lords a-leaping.
That’s because PNC Bank had introduced its whimsical economic indicator for the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” calculating the cost of all the gifts of the carol. In 1984 it was $20,069.58; in 2019, $38,993.59. Detailed numbers are not available for 2020 because COVID closed down performances of symphonies and ballet companies, so no drummers, pipers or lords. Back when I was knee-deep in sugarplum fairies, waltzing flowers, toy soldiers, little angels and rascally mice, reporters wanted local numbers, hence a call to me.
In the Christian tradition, the twelve days of Christmas are a period of festivities from
Christmas Day (although some say Dec. 26) to the Feast of Epiphany (Jan. 6) and the visit of the Magi. It is an English carol, maybe of French origin, first published in 1780. Most considered it a memory song for fun, but in that way humans have of complicating things, some claim it was a secretive way to teach young Roman Catholics the catechism when Catholicism was prohibited in England from 1558 to 1829. That would include hidden meanings: The ten lords a-leaping
referred to the Ten Commandments, the six geese a-laying were the six days of creation and so on. Too hard for me. I can barely remember where I put the eggnog recipe.
In December I’m glad to see the last of pumpkin spice, and I begin hoarding bags of cranberries. I value traditions, rituals, symbols and signature foods because they enrich life. Some psychologists say these contribute to our mental and physical wellbeing by giving us a sense of identity and community.
Some things do change, even with centuries-
old carols. Most authorities agree that on the fourth day, the true love sent four colly birds: black birds. Not calling birds, but colly, from old English colliery, meaning “black as coal.”
Tradition can be augmented with new things. Recent bloggers have coined the word “thanksbeing,” urging us to be thoughtful and grateful. I’m jumping onto the thanksbeing bandwagon with this prayer for the humble and ubiquitous animals of my yard.
Thanksbeing for the squirrels that provide my earthbound dogs with eternal hope that today will be the day they catch the airborne creatures leaping from tree to rooftop. Hope is a wondrous thing.
Thanksbeing for the squirrel who teaches me the pleasure of satiation by eating two entire pumpkins left outside from October. Although he grew so plump he got stuck trying to wiggle through the picket fence, his regret was fleeting.
Thanksbeing for the squirrel that demonstrates resourcefulness prized by the lazy. Not for her to hang upside down to eat from the birdfeeder. Shake the feeder, and the sunflower seeds fall to the ground to be eaten leisurely. Ease is a luxury.
Thanksbeing for the squirrels who reinforce the importance of creature comforts by upholstering their nests in the giant sycamore tree with stuffing from the cushions of the outdoor lawn furniture. A warm home is a blessed
Thanksbeing for the squirrels who show me the wisdom of oblivion, ignoring the clamor of dogs and the failure of humans who do not supply pumpkins and sunflower seeds on a timely basis. Onward and upward the squirrels go, leaping, flying and landing with gravity-defying precision. Thanksbeing for the squirrels who rise above it all, surely singing their own version of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”