Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

No one now expects the rough
Hilarity of Cruikshank
”The flight of hands like larks
Beneath the high sprig of mistletoe
From lacy wrists surrounding
Pinchwaisted beauties’
Bosoms like Devon cream
Spilling out as they bend
Over the hairy boar’s
Head’s mouth in its idiot grin

Munching an apple”
All that is gone now
With such emblems as the green
Live tree, live holly
Greens, live children,
Cousins, aunts, clustered
Beneath real candles
At the knees of Mother
In shirtwaist and stays,
Papa in his Prince Albert”the
Extended family’s a divided
Host now, we can hardly
Keep in touch by long

Distance calls; the season’s
Cheer since orange moons
And black cats disappeared
The day past Hallowe’en
Is manifested to us by
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein-
Deer, the pink bulb twinkling
In his plastic nose,
And over the P.A. system’s

Speakers beneath the blue
Aluminum glittering trees
On lampposts come the stories
Of not particularly hallowed
Refrains”reminders still,
In a forgetful time, of more
Archaic icons,
Boars’ heads or the Yule
Log sizzling, a cradle
Ringed by dazed cows, a tired
Pale woman resting,
And on their knees

Rascals in silk pajamas,
Three Druids, or is it kings?
Not even Matthew tells
Their names, their home addresses,
Occupations, ID numbers,
Who, wiser than Herod, bring
Tribute in the spirit
Of the simple and the creatures
Acknowledging a mystery
Not their aristocracy
Nor the merchant wisdom
Of any of their empires
Can at any cost ignore.