David Bouchier

This strange, unfocussed interval between Christmas and New Year seems to depress and disorient a lot of people. In the not too distant past, when we were not expected to be so frantically busy, this whole period was an extended winter festival dedicated to family visits, religious observances, and just having fun. In England in the Middle Ages it was a time of continuous feasting and merrymaking, which never stopped until Twelfth Night, January 6th, the traditional end of the Christmas season.

We drove out along the north fork of Long Island last week, passing a steady stream of cars and SUVs heading the other way, loaded with Christmas trees. They were tied on to roofs, hanging perilously out of car trunks, and even protruding from side windows. Pumpkin madness is over, and Christmas tree madness has arrived.

Only ten shopping days until Christmas, and panic has set. Not only do we have the impossible task of choosing gifts for others, but we have to face that most dreaded and unanswerable question: "What do you want for Christmas?"

This past weekend on Long Island the village of Port Jefferson hosted its very popular annual Dickens Festival. This has evolved into a big event, with dozens of historical and cultural programs and happenings loosely connected to the Dickensian version of Christmas. The sidewalks are made picturesque by actors in period costume: chimney sweeps, bobbies, ragged urchins, and Dickens characters.

There is a curious myth that summer is the season when we should catch up on our reading. Every newspaper and magazine publishes lengthy summer reading lists, as if we are going to spend our few short months of light and warmth closeted indoors with a heap of books. Nothing could be further from the truth. Winter is the time for reading, the season of cold and darkness, arthritis and self-doubt. That is when book lists should come out, because only good books can save us from the winter blues. But what are good books?