Quiet and still sits a house on a hill
In wintry white adorned;
With a happy fire by which to retire,
Where none are ever scorned.
Upon the air hangs, crisp and fair,
A scent from the smoky plumes
That through the willows heartily billows
And throughout the forest fumes.
Out of ancient stone, its walls have grown,
The roof out of living lumber;
Its chambers are many; its stores aplenty;
It is a house that does not slumber.
Amidst the trees, who stand at ease
Beneath their snowy loads,
There stirs not a sound for miles around,
Save upon the crooked roads
Where young and old trudge through the cold
Round the smooth and winding lane,
That despite the chill is pleasant still
And leads up to the cottage gate.
The children play along the way
And laugh and josh and giggle,
Running to and fro in the downy snow,
As with glee they shout and wiggle.
While the old and gray ride in their sleighs
Recounting the greatest tales;
In verse and rhyme, they each tell the time
When first they crossed these hilly vales.
Then enter through those happy few
To whom the House is known,
Who plop and slump into wooly lumps,
Their weathered coats upon the stone.
The dancing light the heart excites
Amidst the glistening tinsel,
And illumines there all faces, fair,
Who, gathered round, there mingle.
Full of laughter and mirth there is never a dearth
Of company jolly and good.
You will laugh ’til you cry, ’til there’s pain in your sides
And you’re curled where you once had stood.
There is coffee and tea, and treats for free;
No guest shall ever lack.
There is always a seat and plenty to eat;
Those who enter shall never go back.
“Would you care to dine, or prefer only wine?”,
The Host may gladly inquire.
One or both you may chose, for you cannot lose
In a House that does not ever require.
For those who wane from the blithe refrain
Of the loud and jocund hymns,
There are tranquil lumps of pillows, plump,
That with comfort plushly brim.
Swathed in down, you shall gently drown
Beneath a furry heap;
And in a wooly bundle softly trundle
Into a fathomless sleep.
Silent and askew until morning anew
The guests of the House shall slumber,
And endlessly dream of merry scenes
That flourish without number.
Though times be strange and the seasons change,
The House does yet abide;
For it is eternal and ageless, enduring and changeless,
And its splendor shall never subside.
Of such a Home, precious little is known,
And fewer, still, have found;
For arduous is the way to the festive buffet,
The path of fabled renown.
Though throngs have sought the distant spot
Whereon the House resides,
It’s only the pure, the merry, the sure
Who the Keeper subtly guides;
For they alone will see what it truly means to be
A distinguished and honored guest
In the House of ages, the envy of sages,
By which they will be assuredly blessed.
Should you happen to find yourself inclined
To venture through its gate,
May your happiness abound in the joyful sound
That the halls of the Christmas House make.
There are seemingly very few advances, technological or otherwise, that are genuine advances in every respect, since often a great increase must be achieved at the expense of something else. For photography, we sacrificed painting; for television, books; for America, lives; and, in the case of email and cell phones, we have largely sacrificed meaningful correspondence with each other. The reasons for the decline in letter-writing are as numerous as they are obvious, given the momentum of undeniably practical communication technology, and there are no signs of (and perhaps no widely compelling reasons for) its return. In speaking of ‘letter-writing’ I do not mean to refer to the still common practice of taking a family photo, scribbling a greeting on the reverse, and mass-mailing it to all one’s acquaintances during the holiday seasons. No, I mean the arguably old-fashioned habit of penning intimate letters, sometimes of significant length, to one’s friends and family. Perhaps my use of the term ‘lost’ in the title is too hasty a judgment, but whether or not the practice has actually undergone a full interment is beside the point.
One might well argue that it is now quite unnecessary and impractical to take the time to write a lengthy letter (or even a letter at all) when such more practical methods exist which allow greater frequency in a given correspondence; and as to its impracticality, I would readily agree. But it can only be considered unnecessary if one is willing to forfeit the obviously great significance of a hand-written letter. We fool ourselves into thinking that that which is ‘practical’ is ‘best,’ but unless the Pragmatists are correct, this could not be further from the truth. For if it were true that there is nothing to be gained in the sacrifice of the practical, then a rejection of every obsolete and inefficient practice would form the basis for a philosophy very much like Pragmatism; and yet anyone who has made even a small sacrifice for the sake of someone else implies that he believes there is such a thing as Good and that it is not synonymous with Efficiency. In light of its utter impracticality, the effort to write each other should perhaps be granted a promotion. For a friendship conducted on the basis of practicalities is a friendship in name only; and I am loathe to think of what joy I would be deprived if, instead of an hour’s conversation, my closest friends should always decline in favor of mopping the floor.
An increased rarity and impracticality have imbued personal letters with an even further significance: a significance which, I think, is not often taken for granted, but as yet has proven to be an insufficient motivator, since even a prevailing sense of gratitude in receiving a warm letter from a friend is usually not enough to induce us into action. This is certainly as true of me as of anyone else, for in lamenting the decline of the practice I am merely making myself out to be a hypocrite. Like the Apostle, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do (Rom 7:15).” Though the success of any sort of relationship is, of course, not predicated on a particular medium of communication, it seems to me wholly naive to think that in refusing to write letters we are not depriving ourselves of something truly beneficial (if not beneficial, at least something pleasant). A hand-written letter carries with it an undeniable and irreplaceable meaning, and there are things we tend to write by hand that otherwise would remain unsaid. I have received meaningful emails and text messages, all of which I greatly appreciate; but if asked to choose between my ever-revolving inbox or my dusty drawer full of ‘war’ letters, I should take the latter in an instant and without the least tinge of regret.
Much of what we know about history and the persons involved, their motivations, perceptions, and feelings, is borne out in their diaries and letters to each other, and that a whole generation or series of generations should be generally devoid of such kinds of records is regrettable; but the lack of records is not the real loss. Rather, it is the intangible deficit in our interactions with each other. I agree with Lewis that “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).” If friendship gives value to survival, letter-writing almost certainly gives value to friendship, and the diminishment of the practice should succeed only after our greatest efforts to resist it.