Christmas Eve

by jkatejohnston

Dear Max,

Little traffic on the ride to work, a clear morning after rain, and the first lines of The Oxen (plus a bunch of other crap) going through my head: Christmas Eve and twelve of the clock/ Now they are all on their knees,/An elder said as we sat in a flock…

At lunchtime at the library I tried to type the whole thing from memory and got most of it. (Hurrah! I learned stuff in college!) Here it is without my mistakes:

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

That’s Thomas Hardy. And it’s impossible to think about Hardy without also thinking of Al Stephens, who I remember so well. I can picture his tall lean figure, white hair, brown eyes, and that gaze.

Most of the time I feel as though I remember almost nothing, like the cheerful, rattling man in The Life of Johnson who passed through life without experience. But I can picture Al Stephens perfectly. He’s a clear space in my messy head. (I think most people who read this diary know who Al Stephens is. But just in case:


When I got to work, I decided to enlist Teresa’s help in making Enzo go to church with me for Christmas Eve. We texted about it and ended up deciding that it was a pretty stupid idea—I would have had to start laying the groundwork weeks ago in order to have any hope of success. I was disappointed—I wanted to sing Christmas carols and see the church lit only by candles—but also relieved. It was beginning to sound like a lot of work.

It seems odd that Enzo knows Greek mythology so much better than Christian mythology. I feel a faint duty to introduce him to the songs and stories of his ancestors, but he’s a total atheist and not interested in the song and story part. I’m an atheist too, but I didn’t teach it to him. Teresa’s not an atheist, she just detests church.

Anyway, back to Plan A, go out for dim sum.