When I was younger, Christmas Eve was always a magical night. We finished off the decorations on the tree, which seemed better every year, in anticipation of Christmas Day and wonderful gifts and visits from relatives, festive food and drinks. But the night itself was a wonder like no other. As I look back, the life-enhancing quality this time of year gave everyone has gradually been replaced by the imposition of something quite different, as the holiday progressively morphed into an orgy of un-affordable acquisition, more and more hideous decorations and music, with “consumers” spurred on by a massive onslaught of greed-driven corporate advertising.
Sometimes I can still sense a glimmer of the original quality that set these days apart from all others, but it takes effort now to evoke the feeling of past Christmas Eves. In the clamor of today’s rushed holiday insistence, it’s hard to remember why we celebrate the great significance, the beauty, and the ultimate tragedy and rebirth of this cyclical myth, whether literally true or not, a story that has been embodied in various forms throughout human history.
Over the years, I’ve only managed to complete two paintings relating directly to Christmas. The first, from 1976, was done after I had immersed myself in life in and around Blue Mountain Lake, a place that I felt then had granted me a successful return to an more meaningful way of living. The Adirondacks, in the early 1970s, especially the part my wife and I chose to settle in, was still quite wild and undeveloped, and this environment and the character of the year-round people living there in many ways reflected this. For a number of years, I experienced epiphanies from my encounters while living there, and these restored to me many of the visions of things in the way I’d seen them as a child.
At one level, the painting above is a rather straightforward rendition of that vision, embodied in a night view out the window of a house on Durant Road on Christmas Eve. Visible in the front yard, the Blanchards’ small but important balsam tree has been decorated with a single set of Christmas lights, the interior light in their house can be seen, and all the rest is immersed in that holy dark of my childhood, made all the more present and dominant by light from a single streetlight, partially illuminating the high scraper banks created by repeated deep snowfalls. There is something at work here that for me has to do with this special night, a combination of forms that I encountered and selectively chose to depict and accentuate in a particular way, hoping to convey what for me at that time and place reflected what Christmas could still be.
The second painting (shown here), completed in 1994, is, as they say, “a whole nother smoke.” To begin with, it is not a depiction of any one actual place, but a composite based on a number of modest dwellings present in some of the less affluent parts of the Adirondacks. This painting does not live in the world of overly comfortable families happily frolicking in a pristine, gentrified wonderland of snow-laden security, nor is the scene we see here dominated by all the other cliché-ridden falsities offered up every year by our culture. I think there may be a glimmer of holiness to be found in this situation, if one cares to look beyond today’s often grotesque reality and accept that the myth may still be present here, although its presence must be metaphorical and allusive. This Nativity is taking place inside, on the color TV, barely discernible through the window. Santa, another ongoing motivating myth, is present on the roof with his reindeer, though flat and unmoving, homemade from plywood. The Wise Men have arrived on snowmobiles and in pickup trucks, guided by the overly bright farm light, which has become the Star of Bethlehem.
Paintings by Don Wynn: “Christmas Tree,” oil, 26” x35” (1976); and “Christmas Eve (The Nativity),” acrylic, 19” x 22” (1994).