Fireworks explode during the Annual Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at Washington Artillery Park in New Orleans. in New Orleans, La. Friday, Nov. 22, 2019.

Larry, who helps us around the yard, came a couple of days before Thanksgiving to mulch the leaves carpeting the lawn, but the grass was soon covered again in a deep blanket of brown. That’s how it is with our sycamores, which shed in a steady torrent from Halloween until February, keeping the landscape an earth-toned mess.

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The thick mounds of leaves seem to absorb sound, much like snowdrifts, making my small part of the world especially quiet in the cold dusks of December. One recent weekend, rising from a laptop I’d been minding all day to meet a deadline, I rewarded myself with a walk near sunset. The only thing I heard as I walked down the block was the occasional purr of a blower keeping the neighbors’ inflatable Christmas decorations plump through the night.

The vogue in inflatables has given the Yuletide tableau along my street an unintended hint of science fiction. A white reindeer, big enough to eat a family, adorns a roof near my house, its huge glow rivaling the radiance of a harvest moon.

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At another house, the owner had raised his usual grove of electric candy canes along his sidewalk, a display that’s arrived around Thanksgiving as long as I’ve lived in the neighborhood. Those candy canes anchor the year for me, seeming to hold it fast against the currents of time.

The months move by anyway, regardless of our hope that tradition will fix them, if only for a moment, as if suspended in a snow globe. As I made my rounds the other evening, the last bit of sun faded quickly, the sidewalk soon illuminated only by a corner oak crowned with strands of white lights, its canopy a Christmas constellation that never fails to lift me.

The days surrender more quickly each December, the old year losing its strength. Returning home, I could see the epic leaf-drop of the sycamore wreathed in shadow, forming dunes as dramatic as any the Magi might navigate on their way to Bethlehem.

The hills of leaf litter, immune to my annual attempts to control them, are a humbling reminder for me each winter of the limits of human ambition. We’re seldom as in charge of things as we think we are.

Amid the going and the doing and the dreaming of getting ahead, maybe the holidays at the bottom of a dying year call us to something more basic and sustaining: the comfort of family, the camaraderie of good friends.

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My two children, now grown and living out of state, stayed a week with us for Thanksgiving, though they didn’t hang around the house. They spent much of the week connecting with childhood classmates, the peers who will always love them regardless of their college GPA or their position in the office organizational chart.

Such are the gifts of the season, wonders that don’t come wrapped in a bow.


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