Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening


The whole school comes together at the annual Christmas assembly.

Today we have our annual, all-School Christmas Assembly. All 930 students, and all staff, both teaching and non-teaching, in the double gymnasium for this annual fest of Christmas songs, skits and music. The climax of the event occurs when I conduct the entire massed voices in a rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas. It is loud and spirited, with a very precious moment in each verse when we come around to the Kindergartens and Grade Ones trying to eke out “and a partridge in a pear tree.” I help them by holding the microphone up to a few of their mouths each time for added volume. It is a ton of fun, and we then send back to the waiting arms of their parents, totally wired.


Earlier in the week the Christmas themes started to weave their colours in and out of the fabric of the School – the Hawes family (Dorothy, Senior School English teacher; Ashley, grade 12 student; Colin, Grade 9 student, and Jenny, Grade 7 student) light the first candle in the Advent wreath and talk about their Okanagan-German traditions. We start singing Christmas carols. I made my annual contribution to “We Three Kings,” with my verse of “myrrh,” while Brian Christensen (Grade 10) was “gold,” and Rachael Baptiste sang “frankincense.” (A few years ago this annual solo of mine gave rise to some ruminations in a School Ties article, myrrh being the most complex of the gifts of the magi.) Last night we had a resplendent Middle School Carol Service; tomorrow night we have 700 people in a transformed double gymnasium for the annual Christmas Gala organized by the Parents Auxiliary (a huge thank you to this energetic, tireless – and possibly, tired – crew of parents).


Sometimes at Christmas I happen to speak in Chapel, and sometimes on this occasion I refer to what I call my favourite Christmas poem – Robert Frost’s “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening.” Robert Frost is a poet whose folksy and plain veneer always lifts on deeper layers of enigma and complexity, peppered with allusions to his predecessors in the canon, all the way back to Shakespeare. Likewise with this poem: he pauses by the dark woods; it is a few days before Christmas – “darkest evening of the year;” his horse, decorated for the season, “gives his harness bells a shake.” The woods, he says, are “lovely, dark and deep”. At this point in the poem we are all very aware of the cocoon of darkness, and the invitation in that darkness that many a reader extends in a contemplation of the darkness in the entire world. But then he picks up the reins – he has promises to keep, and miles to go before he sleeps.

I always feel, in the breath he takes upon picking up the reins, that it is a moment of light, and I ponder again that it is in the midst of darkness that light shines most brightly. May this be, for everyone, a season of light.


  1. Thankyou for the light of hope that you have passed on to all that would read your above sentiments.

    I have reflected one Frost’s use of “lovely, dark and deep” as he describes the woods…….there is beauty to behold even in the “absence” of light (scientifically one could argue that without light the nerve endings in our eyes would no longer “see”.) The “rods” in the human eye are distributed in the periphery and have specially evolved for “vision in the dark”. What you see with the rods is a dark contrast (pardon the pun) to what one sees with the cones. I wonder if he is calling upon our natural desire to explore what is mysterious and hidden within what is perceived as darkness…..nature has given us senses that will allow us to explore and experience darkness ………fear of the loss of control, which is inherent in any new exploration, certainly would grip one when exploring the lovely, dark and deep woods. ……one is uncertain, outside of one’s comfort zone, and often compelled with the “rush” of what it is to be alive…..whether the exploration of self……or the outer limits of the galaxy……this feeling is one that each of recognises instinctively…….our ancestors all felt it. But the harness bells bring him back to the light……to the things we do daily…..almost as a ritual……even the celebration of Christmas…………what we regain is the comfort of fellowship….what we loose is that moment in time when one could have crossed the threshold into a new awareness……….if you come upon Edward Robert Hughes painting “Midsummer Eve”……consider these thoughts of mine……….and may you have the light of curiosity to guide your way into the lovely, dark and deep woods in 2009.


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