Woodstock in its early incarnation was famous for its parties. Midsummer's Eve costume parties at the Magic Meadow (it's an actual meadow, not a nightclub) were legendary. But for me, Woodstock was a place of childhood, and for a small child, the party of parties is the Christmas party. All the people in our world had other lives, and many were celebrated in their professional worlds...a sportscaster, a stage actress, a theater director, a folksinger, a designer, a musician, an inventor, and of course various painters and sculptors.
But to us kids, they were known not so much for their public fame as for their private roles in our little homespun Christmas spectacular. We would all gather in an artist's home on the mountain...skidding through the darkening snowpack up their steep, curving drive as twilight fell, crossing the little white-painted footbridge across a frozen stream, the sound of the water tinking faintly under the ice.
Our Christmas dinner was always a little outside the norm. It was always spaghetti, prepared with pride by our Greek hostess, and served in an enormous earthenware bowl. The artist's all-white kitchen would glow with light and laughter and the tinkling of ice in hand-blown cocktail glasses as heaping, fragrant dish after dish was passed from hand to hand to the long camp table, spread with its white cotton cloth.
After dinner, replete and warm, our cheeks stained with laughter, we would gather around the Christmas tree in a darkened livingroom and settle in for the entertainment. It was the sportscaster's role to play Santa, and he did it with exquisite panache. Heywood Hale Broun, in a tweed tam and knickers, his owl's beaked nose and his bottlebrush mustache, was the master. He was a true natural, a storyteller in the old right, and a subtle and sardonic comedian, with his flat nasal voice and deadpan smirk.
I never did figure out whether he would peruse a list of gifts before dinner, and spend the evening thinking up his litany of clever speeches, or whether he actually (is it possible?) made them up at the spur of the moment, but he had a clever and intricate tale prepared for each and every gift, combining the idiosyncrasies of the giver with those of recipient, and weaving his tale to a razor-sharp punchline at the end. It was brilliant. We were riveted, every last one of us, adult and child alike.
To cap it off, because we were a group of artists, each gift was wrapped with handmade wrapping, each a work of art in its own right. I had to photograph the box in the photo this year because, after nearly three decades, I realize that it is not long for this world. This box was made for me by the hosts of the Christmas party, and has served as my ornament box now for as long as I can remember. I can't believe that the fragile tissue and marker have lasted this long.
Here, at last, is the tribute it deserves.
I have noticed this year that many people are making their gifts and wrapping by hand, and it does my heart good. If it took a recession (depression?) to stir up this wonderful creativity and giving spirit, then so be it. Sometimes it takes a big quake in the collective consciousness to make us all dig deep inside and find the best parts of ourselves once again.