Monday, December 18, 2006

Hope

Decorating the traditional family Nordmann sapin de Noel, usually over two and a half meters high (slightly exceeding eight feet), requires organization, dedication and care. While the Christmas season proceeds apace in Paris and throughout France, Amerloque has been leisurely going through the various crates and cartons of Christmas items and memorabilia gathered down through the years, both in the USA and in France.


Sipping on wassail or eggnog and munching on the season's first Christmas cookies, with CDs of Christmas carols and songs from the Amerloque family's extensive collection playing melodiously in the background, M and Mme Amerloque and the children (who welcomed a break from studying for University exams) spent the greater part of a weekend choosing various ornaments for this year's iteration of The Tree. Selecting les boules de Noel, stars, and figurines seems to be take a bit more time every year: the Amerloque family has made a point of collecting at least one Christmas bauble in many of the memorable venues they have visited individually and severally. There are quite a few indeed: a genuine silvered partially hollowed out ball from Copenhagen, purchased there in the 1990s, might end up hanging from a branch adjacent to a real 1940s postwar "Shiny Brite" ornament from the USA - or a simple folk ornament picked up in Transylvania in the late 1960s. A small, modern Norwegian elf might sit on a branch next to a gilded plastic San Francisco cable car - or a treasured santon de Provence.. A fragile elongated bauble purchased at the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt might find itself side by side with a small blown glass bird from Murano - or an ane berrichon from Limoges.

Of course, sometimes when an ornament is picked up, examined and exclaimed over, Amerloque or a member of the family might ask "Do you remember ... ?" - this does tend to ensure that things drag on a bit, as the story of the item is recalled. Two entire cartons alone are devoted to recipe books, Christmas cards (including a number of late Victorian and Edwardian ones), songbooks and sheet music.

Nowadays with the consumer society, the giftgiving, and the attendant media hype, one can easily tend to lose sight of what the Christmas holiday represented in the past to some people: belief in and hope for a better future, in some cases. Amerloque was reminded of this when, at the bottom of one large carton of Christmas souvenirs, he ran across a lovingly preserved copy of a selection of Polish Christmas carols called Najpiekniejsze Polskie Kolendy by Adam Harasowski, which he had picked up in London quite a few years previously.


The carolbook, in both Polish and English, dates definitely from December, 1940. World War II had been raging on for well over a year in Europe: the German panzers had rolled into and over Poland in September of 1939. They had swept all before them and had butchered the ill-equipped and even more ill-prepared Polish armies. Soviet Russia had treacherously stabbed the Polish people in the back by adhering to the non-aggression pact signed between Germany and the USSR in late August, 1939 – and leaving the Poles to their fate, before occupying the eastern half of the country.

Yet what of the Polish people ? What did Polish fighters do ?

Some went to France, where the Polish government in exile organized a new army of about 80,000 men. To no avail, since by that December of 1940, the low countries, a goodly portion of Scandinavia, and la belle France had fallen, too, under the Nazi yoke. Charles de Gaulle had called for the Free French to resist on June 18, 1940: French men and women from all parts and of all conditions had hurried to London - and to meeting points in the French Empire - to unite and thus give the truth to de Gaulle's then almost unbelievable assertion that France had lost a battle, but not the war.

The Poles ? Many of them in the West were to gather in Scotland, contributing to the defenses of Britain and preparing to fight for the Allies on the Continent when the time came. The town of Abernethy, between Edinburgh and Inverness was the headquarters of the Polish Army, some members of which married local girls and settled in the area. There was at least one Pole in nearby Newburgh, for on the 23th (sic !) of December 1940, he offered a book of Polish carols to one Elizabeth Brown. Was she a girlfriend ? A co-worker ? A nurse ?


The forward to the carol collection, penned one Zygmunt Nowakowski, a member of the Polish National Council, unflinchingly states what it was like, back then:

Poland today is under the rule of Herod. He gave orders to slaughter not only forty, but many thousands of youths. No star shines today over Poland, and the three wise men will not find their way to the Manger of Bethlehem ... there will be no shepherds to bring gifts ... The Nazis have made slaves of them and the Bolsheviks have deported them into far Siberia ... no songs will be heard over the Manger ... Even the straw from the Manger has been stolen by the Germans and the Bolsheviks ...

At one time – how long ago it was – boys singing Christmas carols went from village to village, from house to house carrying a golden star. They walked with that Star, one attired as a Bear, one as a Jew, one as a Highlander, one as Saint Joseph, singing gaily, happily. In Cracow, that most glorious of the towns of Poland, on the huge market-square, there was an artificial wood of Christmas trees, there were stalls full of spangles, Angel's hair, silver and coloured glass balls; there were puppet-shows under the monument of Mickiewicz, the bugle call from the tower of Saint Mary's Church sang ...

All that is now silent and extinguished in both halves of Poland. On both sides there is the complete darkness of a black-out. But in that darkness there is the glow of a fire under the ashes. Poland is in the state of Advent. Poland waits ...

These Carols will shine to us as candles on a Christmas tree, candles lit by our sorrow and yearning for all those who were left in the country, in the darkness of the black-out of slavery ... Our greatest poet was right in saying that

"The flames may destroy the painted pages of history,
The treasures might be stolen by the Teutonic knights,
But the songs will survive."


Hope was alive and well in the hearts and minds of those Poles, both before Christmas and during Christmastide. Similar hope was undoubtedly beating in the breasts of French men and women in London, in those black and unforgiving December days of 1940.

Today, it is a time of peace, at least in Europe. Those dark times of Christrmas, 1940 are but story and tale for most people, who learn a sanitized and bowdlerized history from the media and from textbooks, and remember very little of it, and care even less.

In Paris shops and stores are thronged with chattering shoppers, the shuffling lines at the cash registers are long and it appears, for the moment, as though the forthcoming weather will be like that old French proverb (Noël au balcon, Paques aux tisons) ... but – is it Amerloque's imagination, or do people seem to be a bit unhappier this Christmas than last year ?

Could it be that the upcoming two rounds of French Presidential elections April and May, followed immediately by legislative elections in June, are beginning to be a cause for worry ? Could it be that because prices of gifts and celebratory foods have seemingly skyrocketed this year-end, it might be hard to make ends meet ? Could it be because … the people – as some animals scent a forthcoming storm - feel unwanted and perhaps untoward changes looming in the New Year ?


Amerloque hopes that each reader of these lines will truly appreciate this Christmas what she or he has – health, family, wealth, peace – without having to lose it outright or to give it up for years, like the Poles in those dark days of 1940, of sinister memory.

Merry Christmas ! Joyeux Noël !



L'Amerloque



Text © Copyright 2006 by L'Amerloque
Images © Copyrights reserved to copyright holders, including Amerloque

16 Comments:

Anonymous Jo Ann said...

Hi Amerloque !

// Amerloque hopes that each reader of these lines will truly appreciate this Christmas what she or he has – health, family, wealth, peace – without having to lose it outright or to give it up for years, like the Poles in those dark days of 1940, of sinister memory.//

You're right, we shouldn't forget and I do indeed, appreciate all that I have.

Your description of the way that you celebrate Christmas sounds like the Amerloque household has a lot of fun. The Jo Ann household is quite boring in comparison. ;)
All I have is a red candle and one cd of Christmas music that I received in the mail today as a Christmas gift from someone who knows that I'm not much of a fan of Christmas music. But she managed to mix it all in a humorous way and find some unusual xmas tunes. I guess that she was determined to send to us a little xmas spirit. :D However, I'm thoroughly enjoying the warm New Mexico weather complete with blue skies and a few puffy white clouds.

Merry Christmas Amerloque!

5:27 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Jo Ann !

Thans for the Christmas wishes !

Many thanks for sharing. Christmastime has been a special time in the family for several generations, and Amerloque is simply carrying on the tradition in this one.

The weather in New Mexico sounds marvellous indeed ! (grin)

Merry Christmas again to you and to yours !

Best,
L'Amerloque

1:36 AM  
Anonymous ChrisLate said...

Dear Amerloque,

Thanks for the lovely post. As someone of Polish heritage, it went straight to my heart. And at a time when I have a few worries about tomorrow, you are right...I have so much to be grateful for.

Joyeux Noel!

CL

6:35 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Chrislate !

Thank you for stopping by !

Joyeux Noel to you and to yours, Chrislate !

Best,
L'Amerloque

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Greg said...

My daughter is now old enough/young enough to appreciate christmas. She was so excited to decorate the tree and even more excited when her letter from Santa arrived (a couple in the neighborhood does personalized letters for the kiddies, which really makes an impression!). It's very contagious - I think I'm catching some Christmas spirit as well.

I remember my family tradition for Christmas. This might seem stupid, but it was for my father to bring us to a movie on Christmas Eve. He worked a lot, and so it was special for us all to be with him then. I am looking for a tradition to start with my little family. I think those things nurture the soul.

Merry Christmas all!

3:10 PM  
Anonymous Pumpkin said...

Merry Christmas, Amerloque. I wish you and your family well.

6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Amerloque!

I am glad Amerloque and his family do not have a coordinated tree, with ornaments all of one kind or color.

Here's to all the Christmas memories that rise up out of the mind's dark rooms as the various ornaments are brought out...bells, stars, balls, bird's nests with little wax eggs and feathered birds that perch, wooden mushrooms with red painted spots, blown glass fish (!), bright metal cut-outs, snowflakes made of yarn by grandmas and aunts, a clothespin reindeer with red pipe-cleaner antlers, each ornament stranger than the last and more dear...

I was heartened by your message of good will at the end and return it with interest: may you and yours have a Christmas filled with hope, a Solstice of light during the darkest days of the year!

Cordially,

Cellequilit

7:59 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Greg !

Thanks for stopping by !

Amerloque is one of those, like Greg, who feels that tradition nutures the soul and is important for families !

Merry Christmas to you and to yours, Greg !

Best,
L'Amerloque

12:56 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Pumpkin !

Thank you for stopping by - Amerloque appreciates it. He knows from your blog that you are very, very busy, indeed. (smile)

Great news about Florida - bravo !

Perhaps Pumpkin will have a snowy Christmas this year ?

Joyeux Noel to Pumpkin and her family !

Best,
L'Amerloque

1:06 AM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Salut Cellequilit !

Thank you for visiting !

/*/.../... as the various ornaments are brought out .../...

Has Cellequilit been looking through the Amerloque family Christmas boxes ? Uncanny ... (smile)

Joyeux Noel à vous, Cellequilit, et à toutes et à tous qui vous sont chers !

Best,
L'Amerloque

1:14 AM  
Anonymous Mary Ellen said...

Hello Amerloque and Merry Christmas! I enjoyed your post so much! While growing up, Christmas was always special for my large family. It wasn't just the gifts, but the food, traditions, and most of all the visits from all my aunts and uncles with their spouses and children. I had 11 aunts and uncles and too many cousins to count, so you can imagine the crowd!

I have kept many of the same traditions with my own family and I now see the older children carrying them on with their children. The shopping never makes me cranky because I know that whatever I buy for my children and grandchildren they are happy. Gift giving and not the gift receiving is what is the important part for us. Sometimes the gifts are homemade (a picture, poem, or story written by the kids), and oftentimes, the gifts are some type of food specialty they love to make.

Many of the ornaments that we have collected during the years have been given to my children after they've move out. I would always let them take the ones that they found special to put on their trees, so that has saved me from having to store boxes upon boxes of Christmas decorations. I still have, however, some glass, painted ornaments from the 1940's that were given to me by my parents. I'm not ready to give those up yet!

A Joyeux Noel to you and your family!

2:36 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Mary Ellen !

Thank you for stopping by and sharing !

Yes, there are differences in how the generations approach Christmas – and celebrate it. (smile)

Passing on traditions and inventing new ones is part and parcel of being a parent and grandparent … and Christmas is indeed a special time for large families and small …

Merry Christmas to you and yours !

Best,
L'Amerloque

5:41 AM  
Blogger LASunsett said...

Hi Amerloque,

Our family has such changing dynamics, there's not much of a set tradition. Being scattered around and many of us having jobs that do not shut down just because its Christmas, contributes to that.

Anyway, I know that yours is almost over. But I hope what you have already experienced has been great. And I hope the rest of the day brings peace, joy, and hope.

5:03 AM  
Blogger benoit said...

As I am from polish descent too, I particulary enjoyed this post : and as I am not particulary original,I wish you a merry christmas !!! :)

8:45 AM  
Anonymous vilay said...

Bonne annee 2007 Amerloque.
Vilay et Pumpkin

7:10 PM  
Blogger L'Amerloque said...

Hello Pumpkin and Vilay !

Amerloque sends his thanks for the New Year's greetings, and extends his sincere wishes to both Pumpkin and Vilay - and the family - for every happiness and success in 2007. He is sure that things will be better: day-by-day, in every way.

Best,
L'Amerloque

1:20 AM  

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