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Sam McGee and Christmas – Family Fun

Posted Dec 21 2009 10:00pm
Yukon Cold

Yukon Cold

A Warm Holiday Note
Years ago, when our kids were much younger, I had the bright idea that we should celebrate Christmas by reading poetry by the fire, as FDR reportedly did with his family. It was a good plan, hatched with two other families, to read poetry every Christmas Eve at our regular dinner with the three families.

- Start a tradition, moments to remember, poetry appreciation, – that sort of thing.

My deeper take on the project: Each selects a favorite poem, and reads it to the crew. Their take on the project: Each writes a poem for the person they are gifting from the name-drawing a month before.

My choice, as the first reader, on the first day of our new tradition: The Cremation of Sam McGee , by . Well, the poem is a bit longer than expected, but thinking this is what everyone would be doing, I set out to read the entire poem. The poem is dark, mysterious, cold, and funny – but they were laughing way too hard.

The further I went into it, the more our families were laughing – I’m thinking: I’m funny, this poem is funny, but it isn’t that funny!

Punch line: They had written their short poems about the person, and I was far out into the Yukon, moiling for gold, with a frozen corpse, ready to throw him into the fire – completely off the mark of group expectations. The best part, after that big laugh at my oversight, was that the poetry tradition continued for years – even when the kids were in college, and we all had great fun sharing our thoughts, our gratitude, and roasting our friends before dinner.

To share a bit of the moment you may appreciate the ending of The Cremation of Sam McGee. Sam knew he was dying, and asked his partner to promise cremation. The cold of the Yukon had so penetrated his being that he couldn’t bear the thought of a burial in an icy grave. The poem ends with this view of matters – looking into the ’strange things done in the midnight sun:’

I was sick with dread, but I bravely said “I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked;”
…Then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm,
In the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile,
And he said: “Please close that door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear
You’ll let in the cold and storm
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee,
It’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays wherever you are ;-)
- and thanks for your many comments and feedback! See you next year!


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