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Across The Lake

Holidays are not easy times for writers. It seems odd, but the sleigh bells and lights of Christmas have been written about so often that trying to come up with a new way of describing the season is hard. The same is pretty much true of the Thanksgiving just past. There are only a limited number of ways to describe a turkey.

Francis P. Church answered a letter and in the process made it difficult for any subsequent writer to address the issue of Santa Claus' reality. "Yes, Virginia," he told the eight year old, "there is a Santa Claus" and with that wrote newspaper history in the old New York Sun. In the 113 years since he penned that reply, Church's answer has become one of the most quoted responses to the question, Is there really a Santa Claus?

It has also made it harder for the rest of us trying to write something original about Santa or elves or reindeer or anything else about the season. Fortunately, thus far we at least don't have to be politically correct but that may not be far off. The minute those new 'forever' postage stamps came out, we started hearing that they'll be used this year just so people won't have to decide between the various other special issues and not insult their Jewish or Muslim or African American acquaintances.

The urge to be original, to be different is something most writers strive for and most especially at these holiday times. Walking through the mall a week or two ago, I shared the feeling of a young woman who remarked to her friend how she hated hearing the stores playing Christmas music "and it isn't even Thanksgiving yet!"

My Favorite Reader and I have a clipping we've had on our refrigerator for more than 30 years. It was clipped from a copy of the Wall Street Journal newspaper where it runs on their editorial page every year, year after year. It's called The Desolate Wilderness. It's based on the account of William Bradford, the one time governor of Plymouth Colony and describes what the Pilgrims who left Delftshaven faced on landing here in 1620.

"They had now no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses or much less towns to repair unto to seek for succor and for the reason it was winter, they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel..."

Contrast that editorial with the one that follows beneath it each year, "And the Fair Land." It reminds us that America is "one of the great underdeveloped countries of the world; what it reaches for exceeds by far what it has grasped." Writ10 years before Iraq and Afghanistan, the writer reminds us that "Too often (we) have been asked to fight in strange and distant places, for no clear purpose we could see and for no accomplishment we can measure."

With an election only a few weeks behind us, it's good to recall "that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators... We might remind ourselves if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not now be thankful for our fair land."

Vermont Royster wrote those editorials and also wrote another which the Journal has published annually since 1949. In hoc Anno Domini is one we also find worthwhile each year, reminding us that when Saul of Taurus set out on his journal to Damascus, the whole world was in bondage to Tiberius Caesar. "Then of a sudden, there was a light in the world and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's"

We're reminded that there are still men who would put out the light that shone on Paul and that his words to the Galatians are still to be given heed:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Thoughts while drying the dishes... As I said, it's not easy being original during these holidays, but then I'm not Francis Church or Vermont Royster, either.