Christmastime Beauty / by Jeannine Cook

As a small child growing up in East Africa, on the Equator, Christmas caused me considerable perplexity because all the traditional Yule time images were of snow clad lands, twinkling lights, tall fir trees clad in decorations. None of that was believable really because the tropical world was brilliant, un-winterlike and generally very different. Churches were distant, friends as well, and the family was obliged to follow Nature's dictates and care for the farm and its needs, even on Christmas Day.

Nonetheless, I learned early of the great beauty that is generated and connected to Christmas, no matter where one is in the globe. Whether one is very religious or not makes no difference to the special feeling to Christmas, because of the beauty of music, art and every other form of creativity connected to the celebration of these days of festivity. When the only sources of patronage, and thus livelihood, were the Church or very rich people, artists and musicians were able to work, creating wondrous works that have endured down the centuries and enriched all our lives. Much of this heritage was also created in and for the remarkable churches, basilicas and cathedrals that we all cherish today. A remarkable synthesis that enriches the Western world even today... as one sees especially at Christmastime.
Think of the ethereal voices of the choristers singing in King's College Chapel in Cambridge (at right) for the Christmas Eve service. Or Johann Sebastian Bach's Christmas Oratorio which was first performed in St. Nicholas' Church in Leipzig in 1734.

While the music fills our ears, often around one in these churches, the stained glass windows accompany in their glory and the statues in the chapels are graceful and evocative. Imagine listening to a Christmas concert as you are sitting in Sainte Chapelle, in Paris' Ile de la Cite, with these stained glass windows glowing above one's head, (photo courtesy of Ricardo Andre Frantz).

Even small pieces are powerful reminders of the beauty we all inherit, such as Lucca della Robbia's glazed terracotta Nativity Scene, created in 1460 and now in the National Gallery's Samuel H. Kress' Collection. There are so many wondrous paintings that depict the Nativity, the Holy Family, the Virgin and Child and related subjects that everyone is spoiled for choice. It is fun to scroll through the troves of these images now so easily available on the Web, and suddenly, one chances on something totally unfamiliar and captivating.

Here is another example I found of Christmastime beauties. A red chalk drawing done in sparkling fashion by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) in the early 1630s, it is the Madonna and Child with an escaped goldfinch (in the Andrew W. Mellon Collection at the National Gallery of Art).
One could go on and on celebrating Christmas with the extraordinary diversity of beauty previous generations have left us. Even in times of tawdry Christmas commercialism, it is easy to step away from it and lose oneself in wonderful creations. The Web makes this beauty even more accessible to everyone - what a Christmas gift.
Merry Christmas to everyone who reads these lines. May your lives be filled with beauty!