It’s an irony that the things I like best about Christmas are traditions from places where Winter means snow and ice. The smell of pine warmed by glowing lights, carols full of cold Decembers, and hot Wassail in the punch bowl.  None of these are indigenous to my birth-state Arizona, or to Southern California.

Of course, these joyous Holiday things are deeply rooted in Paganism – Christmas has merely borrowed its older siblings’ finery. The Winter Solstice has been called by many names, but its ancient rites and customs are far more ingrained in the season than the America of Currier and Ives recognizes. Rites and customs that were already here among the first peoples on the land, but also came hidden even in the bosom of Puritanism from across the sea.

mistletoeWithout these hidden treasures from the past, there would be little worth eating or drinking at the Christmas feast, houses would be starkly bare of decoration, and even many a cherished carol would fall silent if its ancient tune were returned to the pagan bard who first played it.

An icy drear December indeed.


In this poem by Mary Oliver, there is a hint of paganism in her imagined wind-bird, which brings us a kinder, gentler winter snow:


In winter
     all the singing is in
          the tops of the trees
               where the wind-bird

with its white eyes
     shoves and pushes
          among the branches.
               Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,
     but he’s restless—
          he has an idea,
               and slowly it unfolds

from under his beating wings
     as long as he stays awake.
          But his big, round music, after all,
               is too breathy to last.

So, it’s over.
     In the pine-crown
          he makes his nest,
               he’s done all he can.

I don’t know the name of this bird,
     I only imagine his glittering beak
          tucked in a white wing
               while the clouds—

which he has summoned
     from the north—
          which he has taught
               to be mild, and silent—

thicken, and begin to fall
     into the world below
          like stars, or the feathers
               of some unimaginable bird

that loves us,
     that is asleep now, and silent—
          that has turned itself
               into snow.

mary-oliver-with dog



The bird in this Thomas Hardy poem, however, hints at Glad Tidings in the midst of a harsh cruel winter:


I leant upon a coppice gate
     When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
     The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
     Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
     Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
     The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
     The wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth
     Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
     Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
     the bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
     Of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
     In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
     Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
     Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
     Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through
     His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
     And I was unaware.



I wrote this poem because my part of America is often mocked for its lack of connection to the “traditional” Christmas of colder climes:


A bright parched sky over cold cracked earth
Our north wind stole the last tear from air’s face
Abandoning a static-crackling still life in its wake

Lights cover house fronts and the dead lawns
Illumine green trees aglitter from some other world
Where snow rides their wind down to a sleeping earth

Dreaming of a spring which will have teased this sea-desert
Long before its welcome home among the tall green trees
Our spring of tiny blue butterflies disappearing from the dunes

Too many Christmas songs buried in snow’s white dazzle
Which never fell from some other world on Bethlehem
From a bright parched sky over cold cracked earth



Whatever traditions you follow, or if you follow none at all, this is the season to Light Up the Darkness, so I wish you much brightness, good cheer and good company. Thank you for reading this vintage Word Cloud.


Sources and Further Reading:

  • White Eyes, from Why I Wake Up Early, © 2004 by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press)
         Mary Oliver (1935-2019) won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1984) for American           Primitive, and the National Book Award (1992) for New and Selected Poems.
  • The Darkling Thrush, from The Complete Poems by Thomas Hardy (Macmillan, 1976)
         Thomas Hardy, renowned English novelist and poet, was born in 1840 in the                village of Higher Bockhampton in the county of Dorset. When Hardy died in 1928,          his ashes were enshrined in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey, but his heart          was buried with his family.
  • Another Kind of Christmas, © 2015 by Nona Blyth Cloud, December 2015


  • Mistletoe —
    The tradition of hanging it in the house  in winter to bring good fortune and keep away evil spirits dates back to the Druids. It also plays an important part in the Norse myth of the death of Baldur, son of Odin and Frigg.
  • Mary Oliver with one of her dogs
  • Photograph of Thomas Hardy
  • Shepherds outside Bethlehem – Handmade Software, Inc. Image Alchemy v1.11

Word Cloud Photo by Larry Cloud

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
This entry was posted in Poetry, Word Cloud and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Word Cloud: SNOWBLIND (III)

  1. Such lovely selections. I wish you the same!

Comments are closed.