City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas.
Children laughing, people passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on every street corner you’ll hear
Strings of streetlights, even stoplights
Blink of bright red and green
As the shoppers rush home with their treasures.
Hear the snow crunch, see the kids bunch
This is Santa’s big scene
And above all the bustle you’ll hear
by Ray Evans & Jay Livingston
This was my Mother’s favorite Christmas song. I remember her sitting at the old Chickering piano in the sunroom, belting out these lyrics as if it was yesterday. I live in the country now, just outside a small town of a few thousand, with elbow room, trees, tidal wetlands, and only a rare passing car or visitor.
In the past we’ve had a house full of extended family celebrating the holiday, but those times have passed. Understandably children and the grand-child are making their own traditions in their homes and we are welcomed and eager to be part of “Santa’s big scene” in the heart of downtown Boston.
Their high-rise apartment looks down on the city streets blinking red and green, the frozen Charles River, and a small sliver of the snow-covered Common. Their tree is a real spruce and adorned with ornaments, many of which are familiar from Christmases past. Outside soaring gulls fly by our windows while the urban House Sparrows stay much lower on the sidewalk among the shoppers and bunching kids. The skaters crowd the Frog Pond ice, while the Nutcracker is playing at the nearby Opera House.
One cold dawn, two days before Christmas I broke away for birding at Mount Auburn Cemetery. I’ve previously described this birding hotspot in several posts (2/4/2015, 11/11/2016, and 4/20/2018), but this is my first visit in the winter. In spring and fall it is a migration trap for weary travelers; a welcomed oasis of green and water amidst the urban sprawl. It’s also the home of year-round residents, including a Red-tailed Hawk perched atop the local food chain.
A subway and bus ride took me to the north entrance of the cemetery. The central “mountain” of Mount Auburn has shaded its northern side with crunching snow and ice covering the grave sites, pathways, and roads. A sign cautioning to proceed at your own risk tried to warn me away, but to no avail. It was a risk worth taking.
This birding site is one of my all-time favorite locations. The birds were just the predictable, common species, and quite sparse on that cold morning, but sometimes birding is not just about the birds.
All the ponds were frozen solid. I saw an adventurous squirrel skate across one, but there were no ducks or geese. The deep dark glen, a sanctuary for countless birds in warmer weather was now cold and silent, except for the occasional raspy cry of a jay.
The cemetery compels one to quietly reflect on the years gone by and those still to come. The stones mark many lives well-lived, and perhaps some, not so much. I was happy to be there and see the nuthatches, robins, and sparrows, but also to leave the burying ground behind and rejoin the Christmas bustle.
Christmas Eve found us in a long line of revelers, waiting on cold Copely Square to enter the warmth of the magnificent Trinity Church. Our seats, almost in the front row, gave us a great proud view of our grandson in the choir, as we all joined them in singing the Christmas favorites. The soaring soprano descants brought us chills and the deep bass notes of the organ shook our seats and stirred our souls. Music like this makes the sacred season for me.
Christmas in the city with the family, great food, wine, and song–I think I can get used to this.
In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron; water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter, long ago.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him–give Him my heart.
by Christina Rossetti