David Bouchier

When Santa Claus parades down 34th Street it’s more than just an entertainment with giant balloons. It is the ritual signal or starting gun that launches us into a month-long frenzy of consumption. We must buy gifts, right now, and on all sides we hear the dreaded and unanswerable question: what do you want for Christmas?

Halfway up a hill behind our local art center there is a small building – a hut or a shed really – just about big enough for one person. It has plenty of windows, and I would be willing to bet that it was built as an artist’s studio.

If so it is a perfect example of what I call the Creative Hut, a very ancient device to promote serious thinking. Diogenes, an eccentric Greek philosopher of the fourth century BC, spent much of his time living in a large jar in the marketplace because it helped him to concentrate. Concentration is the operative word. A small space blocks out many distractions, most importantly, the distraction of other people. Leonardo da Vinci said, “An artist’s studio should be a small space because small rooms discipline the mind.” You can’t really argue with Leonardo, especially when one of his paintings just sold for $450 million.

Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration

Thanksgiving is quintessentially a family festival. Never mind that improbable story about Indians and turkeys, this week is all about families getting together.

Thierry Ehrmann / Creative Commons

I like to imagine that I am in touch with history – not on the level of a professional historian of course, but like anyone who has noticed the basic fact that the past shapes the present, just as the present shapes the future. We are products, and perhaps playthings of history, whether we like it or not. But the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s dramatic gesture in Wittenberg in 1517 might have passed me by, if it hadn’t been for a flurry of book reviews and an excellent documentary on public television.

Who can we blame for this extra hour of darkness in the evenings? Whose not very bright idea was it to push the clocks back just when we are all starting to get depressed about the coming winter? The answer is President Woodrow Wilson who imposed this ritual persecution in 1918, and the members of Congress who have supported it ever since.