It’s a very quiet Christmas Eve at our house.

Fog covers the mountains.

Bleak Midwinter in the Shenandoah Valley

Bleak Midwinter in the Shenandoah Valley

We didn’t decorate a tree. No sound of children’s voices.


Our family had festive days together in November and will have more this weekend. Tomorrow there will be brunch in the home of friends.

But today it’s just us. And time.

Time for reviewing the year, mug in hand, wrapped in an afghan made by loving hands long ago.

Time for prayer for our troubled world. Black lives that matter. Police lives that matter too. Endless wars.

Christina Rosetti focused on bleakness at Christmas, turning away from tinsel and sleigh bells and snowmen who sing.

In 1872 she responded to a Scribner’s Monthly request for a Christmas poem with “In the Bleak Midwinter.” The poem appeared in her collected works, was set to music by the composer Gustav Holst, and published in the English Hymnal in 1906.

I invite you to get your own mug and afghan and listen and watch.

The bleak midwinter is calling me to celebrate Christmas quietly this year, to open no presents, just to give the babe my heart.

I immerse myself in bleakness and ask what it has to teach.

Have you been called by bleakness this holiday season? I’d love to hear how.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Tina Fariss Barbour on December 24, 2014 at 11:27 am

    If not bleakness, then it’s the quiet that I’ve been called to. This past year has been difficult for my “family of origin.”
    I am not in relationship with most of them. That has changed the holidays for me, in some sad ways but also in some healthy ways. I am doing less rushing and less dreading this year. I’m just trying to hold Larry and Chase Bird close and open my heart to Spirit. Merry Christmas to you and your family, Shirley!

    • shirleyhs on December 24, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      Tina, I’ll think of you and your tiny circle here under my afghan today and return your good wishes. You have chosen the kind of holiday your spirit needs, and I honor you this day. “Less rushing and less dreading” could be a very good mantra for our whole culture.

      Thank you for starting the conversation.

  2. Joan on December 24, 2014 at 11:56 am

    I’m with you all the way, Shirley. Ours is also a quiet holiday filled with memories of Christmases past and praying for a peaceful world. Blessings to you and yours.

    • shirleyhs on December 24, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      Joan, you are seeing similar scenes out your window. May peace abound in your heart this quiet Christmas. I join you in the prayer for peace in our world.

      And in the joy of Christmases past.

  3. marianbeaman on December 24, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    It’s hard to think of bleakness with the sun peeking through the clouds, the thermometer at 78, and my windows open wide. Yet I feel bleakness at this first Christmas without Mother, feeling twinges and pangs of sorrow at times.

    Thank you calling us to quiet ourselves with Rossetti’s contemplative poem. I like the lyrics of another Rossetti poem for Christmas: Love Came Down at Christmas –
    Love shall be our token,
    Love shall be yours and love be mine,
    Love to God and all men,
    Love for plea and gift and sign.

  4. shirleyhs on December 24, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    What an excellent reminder that nature and our moods don’t always match, Marian. I’m glad you have warmth and sunshine and open windows this day.

    The bleakness that comes from the absence of your mother’s voice and touch cannot be penetrated by the sun.

    Thanks, therefore, for the Son.

    And thanks for adding another Rosetti poem.

  5. Kathleen Pooler on December 24, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    Shirley, I always appreciate the quiet moments in the midst of all the frenzy where there is precious time to reflect on the reason for the season. Ours will be hectic but I will take in your words as a reminder to capture the quiet moments and get in touch with my many blessings.Sending you warm holiday hugs as you rest in quiet reflection.

    • shirleyhs on December 24, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      Thank you, Kathy. There can be quiet even in the midst of merriment and merriment in the midst of quiet. Memory is a blessed gift, isn’t it?

      Thanks for bringing your holiday hug, and here’s a big warm one in return!

  6. Janet Givens on December 24, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Shirley. This could not have come at a better time. Thank you. I’m sitting today with a mug of decaf tea and as unlock out my window, feel I must me perched inside a cloud. It could be depressing, but it’s not. And now it’s especially not, as I get mysf a second cup and prepare to listen to Gustav Holst. You are my gift for today.

    • shirleyhs on December 24, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      Glad it came at a good time, Janet. The beauty of bleakness is a good thing to remember in the midst of winter.

      Especially with a mug in one’s hand.

      Wishing you a wonderful holiday. Hope to see you again in the New Year.

  7. Richard Gilbert on December 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    How beautiful, post and song, Shirley. Your spiritual practice bearing fruit. I have been called by the contrast between this Virginia bleakness, just south of you, and our joy over our first grandchild. I find myself feeling grateful and renewed as I take my first steps into my late season of life.

    • shirleyhs on December 24, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      Richard, I noted the Virginia location of your joy. One of these days we must meet in person.

      I am experiencing the first pleasure of grandparenthood all over again through you. So much happens in this transition.

      May you carry your granddaughter’s song in your heart always.

  8. Doris Dagen on December 24, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    We were just talking about this song between Mother, Sue, Linda and me on Friday. I even sang as much of the
    first verse as I could remember the lyrics.

  9. shirleyhs on December 24, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    Well how about that? Now you have the lyrics, too!

    Looking forward to our time together this weekend. We’ll make a joyful noise, Sister Doris!

  10. Laurie Buchanan on December 24, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    Shirley — Christmas for us is always low-key by intent. This year even more so as it’s our first Christmas without our son geographically close by. Bittersweet, but not bleak, Len and I will Skype with Evan Christmas day — him in Lakemoor, Illinois, us in Boise, Idaho.

  11. shirleyhs on December 24, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Skype and FaceTime. What wonderful inventions for grandparents. And a good distinction. Bittersweet. Not bleak.

    May you experience deep peace and great joy as you connect digitally with Evan tomorrow.

    Thanks for stopping by this house this night.

  12. Kathleen Friesen on December 24, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    A photograph and song that capture the beauty of the darkness and shadow alongside the light. Both the dark and the light are created, each with their own horizons. Thank you for the many reflections you’ve shared and inspired in this blog space. Wishing you peace and joy on this night.

  13. shirleyhs on December 24, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Thank YOU, Kathleen, for doing the same with your own contemplative words and photography. Sending you blessings of peace and joy also. I’m so glad that 2014 was a year in which we connected in person.

  14. Loretta Willems on December 27, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    What a beautiful Christmas reflection. My own Christmas was not bleak this year, just quiet and thoughtful. I have known bleak Christmases in the past, though. Acceptance of that darkness as a gift was an important personal epiphany.
    May your quiet Christmas bring forth rich blessing in this coming year..

    • shirleyhs on December 30, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      Loretta, welcome back! It’s been a while since I heard from you. I like your distinction between quiet and bleak. They can be quite different!

      As it turned out, Christmas was delightful. Not at all bleak but low key. Five couples from our church shared a most amazing brunch. Reading. Walking.

      And it was a great way to reflect on the end of a very good year.

      As I hope it was for you also, Loretta.

  15. Melinda on December 30, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Just finished reading.g ‘Blush’ on my Kindle. Once when I asked my mother how to find a good book in the library she said first she prays. Then she heads to the biography section! So while every one around me seemed busy with their books or devices, I went to the Kindle store and found you. I grew up in Iowa but I live in Lancaster. You are about 10 years older than myself so it is interesting reading about Lancaster before my time. I have a WordPress blog as well. Facebook has taken some of the fun out of it for me, which I would like to restore. I have had some stresses in the past several months that have dominated my thinking. So I have hesitated to write in a public space in case I would inadvertently offend someone. I did join your weekly writing challenge and downloaded the writing guide. I have set a timer for writing before… but never for reading. Here I am in my pajamas and it’s nearly 2 pm. I don’t get much opportunity for this!

  16. shirleyhs on December 30, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Melinda, you warm my heart! Thank you for finding Blush and for heading online to find me in person. I love when readers do this.

    The story you told about your mother was wonderful. I may just quote her!

    I’m glad you could find many connections to Lancaster past and present in the book.

    I hope you enjoy Magical Memoir Moments and the guide and that Blush may be an answer to a prayer, part of your healing journey. Blessings!

    I’m off to go find YOUR blog.

  17. Elaine Mansfield on January 1, 2015 at 9:52 am

    Christmas has been a challenge for a few years. My CA son put it well: “Christmas has been grim without dad.” Sigh…. So that’s the way life is and we don’t have little children to make us laugh and give that strong sense of moving on. But we have love and warm houses and similar political stances–so no arguments there.
    The best gift for me with honor to the child and the earth: Fracking banned in NY. Grateful for so much, including finding you and your blog this year.
    Yes, we’ll give him our heart.

    • shirleyhs on January 1, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      Amen on the gift of no fracking in your state, and good for you and your activist friends for this achievement.

      You are giving the earth itself a gift and all the children in it.

      But the hole left by Vic is never filled. I can only imagine.

      Your heart is deep and wide. May the empty spaces become places of grace for you and others. They already have.

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