Tag Archives: Christmas in Alabama

Impending December

Thirty years ago, as the first day of December eased in on a cold midnight, I was sitting at the City Pier on the New London, Connecticut, waterfront. I was in the former whaling center and seaport on tour with a theatre group and had just completed a long and difficult work day in a long and occasionally demanding schedule.

As late and as cold as it was, I had walked through the quiet, empty town toward the water in a light snow to let the frigid sea air clear my head. The walk to the waterfront includes a charming statue of an earnest Eugene O’Neill as a boy, writing intently on his tablet. The acclaimed playwright spent boyhood summers at his family’s Monte Cristo Cottage a couple of miles down the harbor.

As I sat at the harbor, I listened to George Winston’s classic 1982 album December on my Walkman. That music became a frequent companion on the fall 1989 tour. It relaxed me in particularly stressful times.

As each December approaches, I find myself thinking about the soothing music of December. It speaks to the title’s power of suggestion that I only think about that album when December approaches; I would never think of listening to it after New Year’s Eve. Winston’s meditative solo piano perfectly captures the mood of the winter holiday season with its long dark nights, bittersweet memories, pensive moods, and festive gatherings.

December is upon us in this Thanksgiving week of late November. Holiday decorations are beginning to pop up in neighborhoods and stores are already a frenzy of commercial Christmas “cheer.” I plan to find my Christmas wreath at this Saturday’s Pepper Place Market in downtown Birmingham. My Christmas cards are boxed up and ready to be taken to the post office on December 1.

Everything in Alabama will seem to grind to a standstill on the afternoon of November 30 as the annual Iron Bowl football game between Alabama and cross-state rival Auburn occurs – the 84th time that this rivalry has been played. For years it was played in Birmingham’s Legion Field; now it alternates between Tuscaloosa and Auburn. It is as entrenched as any holiday tradition.

My annual December trip to the Grand Hotel on Mobile Bay is on hold. I took too long to figure out my dates and there seem to be no rooms at the inn. I will keep working on it, and I could always go somewhere else – or even take a room somewhere near Point Clear – but the pull of the Grand is strong for me this time of year and I am determined to still make it happen. Memories of Spanish moss hanging from holly trees on the lagoon are always a strong pull.

Another piece of music that comes to mind around December is Joni Mitchell’s classic, “River,” which writer Dan Chiasson calls “the song that, almost two thousand years late, made the Christmas season bearable.” “It’s coming on Christmas,” Mitchell sings, “They’re cutting down trees / Putting up reindeer / Singing songs of joy and peace // Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on …”

I prefer my rivers unfrozen, but the sentiment is clear. As dear as the Christmas holiday is, it can also be a time of stress and tension and feelings of loss. Whenever I hear somebody say, “I’ll be glad when the holidays are over,” I cringe a little.

But I get it, too.

In the meantime, I will celebrate the holidays and – like my mother’s dog, Lulu – I will seek out my warm spot in the sunshine until I find a river I can sail away on.

“In the Bleak Midwinter”

  dscn0020 Point Clear, Alabama. The thing that makes me happiest about the Winter Solstice is that the daylight begins to creep up minute by minute and the days begin to get gradually longer. I do not care for long dark nights and cold temperatures when my seasonal allergies are always at their worst.

I made my annual escape to the Grand Hotel at Point Clear, Alabama, on Mobile Bay this week before Christmas – a pleasant and much needed break in a challenging year. When I arrived, temperatures were in the 70s and shorts and flip flops were much in evidence.

dscn0587The seasonal shift became tangible and abrupt on Sunday. The morning was still warm and I was drinking coffee on my balcony when a dark cloud appeared over on the Mobile side of the bay moving rapidly toward the eastern shore. Suddenly the wind was howling and vicious, the trees were bending, and the ducks in the lagoon were quacking crazily. There were whitecaps on the bay and in the lagoon as the rains moved in. Minutes later the temperature had dropped drastically and monsoon rains enveloped the area. The good part is that this area, like the rest of the state, is suffering a drought and rains are much needed.

After a couple of dreary days, the first day of winter is showing some promise for rising temperatures and more sunshine. Last night’s final sunset of fall was stunning. The sun, which had been invisible all day, suddenly dipped beneath a heavy layer of grey cloud cover and provided a bright brief and brilliant fuchsia flash to what had been a colorless cold day. Just as quickly, it was gone. dscn0594

Early now on the first day of winter, as I pack to head north, temperatures are brisk but climbing and the sun is promising to make more than a perfunctory appearance. Christmas day temperatures here are projected to be back in the 70s.

It has always pleased me that there is a Christmas carol that captures the gloomier aspects of the season. “In the Bleak Midwinter,” with 19th century lyrics by Christina Rossetti of Pre-Raphaelite fame, does not skimp on references to the gloom and dreariness of the winter. Years ago, in my directing days, I opened a production of A Christmas Carol with a group of darkly-clad carolers singing “In the Bleak Midwinter” in a dusky light. It seemed a fitting way to introduce Ebenezer Scrooge’s pre-transformational world.

“Earth stood hard as iron,” Rosetti writes, “Water like a stone / Snow had fallen, snow on snow / Snow on snow / In the bleak midwinter / Long ago.” I particularly like that repetition of “snow on snow” – it gives me a chill to type it now.

Fortunately the bleak midwinter I am heading to in Birmingham and more northern climes of Alabama will not hold snow on snow. In fact, warmer temperatures are forecast. and it promises to be a warmer contemplative time after a difficult year.

Here in Point Clear I have reunited with old friends, had some memorable meals both at restaurants and at the home of friends, and started some new traditions. It is a preview, I hope, of pleasant hours spent with family on Christmas day and a hopeful new year ahead.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, wherever you may be, and however bleak the winter. img_1005