Ghosts Of Christmas Past

It’s a shame to think there will be no more Christmas parties at 346 Madison Avenue. But perhaps Brooks Brothers will host its annual benefit to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at another location in the years to come. The photo above is from the 2010 party, and it is quite sobering to revisit and rewrite this post in light of the events of 2020, one decade later.

I had been in New York for one year that night at Brooks when I reunited with Kalu Kalu. I’ll always remember him as our paths crossed at pivotal junctions in our lives. Wiped out by the last recession, I spent six weeks staying with a friend on Lake Merrit in Oakland. I was a nervous wreck, constantly catastrophizing about the uncertain future (note to former self, the future is always uncertain), and was happy to make a new friend. Kalu Kalu hung out at the same Whole Foods cafe where I went to manage this newly launched website on my laptop, and he was always dressed in a blazer and bit loafers. I found out he’d picked up the style in Boston, but for some reason had come out west. We saw each other daily, and then, more than a year later, both found ourselves in New York and reunited at the annual Brooks Brothers Christmas party. Gazing now at yet another embarrassing photo of my naive self on the Internet, the thing that strikes me now is that I actually look happy. Nearly all the time I was troubled by some buried problem I hadn’t the courage to face, and this went on all the way to 2017 until finally the suffering ego could endure it no longer and began to die so that the new man, awakened to the little sliver of divinity given by the Creator to each one of us, could start to emerge.

I write these words in the spirit of Christmas, when one of mankind’s greatest spiritual teachers came to show us that the kingdom of God is within each one of us, but that we cannot enter it until we become as little children. To be reborn to divine reality is to live in a state of perpetual wonder, as if going through a second childhood, when all the world shines in freshness and fascination. My oldest friend from high school is named Job, and he looks a lot like Kalu Kalu. We were always an odd couple, and there were several fallings out in which we didn’t speak for many years. But at some point I think we both realized we were stuck with each other, brothers passing through this earthly guise together, our fates inextricably intertwined. Recently I learned that 2020 had knocked him out cold. Not the coronavirus, but the climate of fear and chaos that has characterized this year. He’s on disability and meds, up all night and sleeping fitfully throughout the day. All my creative friends have anxiety in one form or another, the curse of a vivid imagination. It’s always the same fear: the ego’s dread of its destruction. But Christ taught that we are so much more than our miserable, suffering selves.

Christmas coincides with the winter solstice, when the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky. To our ancestors, the sun — the source of all light and life and truth — would seem to lie “dead” for three days, whereupon it would be “reborn” and begin its annual climb back towards its apex at the summer solstice.

Likewise, each of us needs to undergo a second birth. The first birth is of our physical selves, but then, after establishing ourselves in the world, we reach the point where that self cannot take us any further, and in fact is the source of all our inner conflict we project onto the world. That self needs to “die” to “make room for God,” as Christians say. I think that time this come for my friend, and I hope I can help him, having gone through the painful process myself. Earlier this month I decided that 2020 has realigned me as well, and so I will be returning to the area north of San Francisco where I grew up. I’ve been away for 20 years, which is oddly enough how long the knight Parsifal goes wandering looking for the Grail castle in the Arthurian legend. When he finally finds it again, he is giving the opportunity to join the lords and ladies of the court if he can but ask the right question, which he failed to do all those years ago. Parsifal pauses, then speaks from the wisdom of the depths when he says, “Whom does the Grail serve?” Trumpets blow, the ailing king is revived, and Parsifal is welcomed into the kingdom. This is another way of saying, “What is the true meaning of Christmas?”

So that’s my message for 2020. Below are a few snapshots from that party in 2010. May we heed the timeless words of the great carol:

Someday soon we all may be together

If the fates allow

But till then we’ll have to muddle through somehow

Merry Christmas, brothers. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

21 Comments on "Ghosts Of Christmas Past"

  1. Sounds llike a great time….. and Christmas eye-candy all around. Cheers!

  2. One of my favorite posts in a while. Would have liked to have seen a shot of the crowd watching Marsalis play

  3. What a great event…that chair is fantastic! xx

  4. Darn, I missed it! To think I was in the store on Saturday. Was there last year and had a great time.

  5. Interestingly enough, I have been a regular visitor to your site for awhile now and that was my mother and sisters who complimented you. The only reason I wasn’t there myself is because I am currently in London. Keep up the good work!

  6. The only problem is, with all these new prep classics, our wardrobes are getting to big and new to get appropriately worn in and worn out. Tragic. Prep=worn out, loved to death, in my book.

  7. Thank you, Christian. Feliz Navidad y buen viaje a Sonoma. Memories of better days, yet promises of a bright future, personally to you, and Spiritually to all.

    One born so that one day He would die. “And she will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1).

  8. One of my favorite entries….Merry Christmas, Christian.

  9. Vern Trotter | December 24, 2020 at 3:48 pm |

    Best of luck back in Sonoma. I have spent many hours there at Zino’s on the square. May be gone now.

  10. Aum, brother! I thoroughly enjoy your spiritual posts.
    Merry Christmas!

  11. NaturalShoulder | December 24, 2020 at 7:41 pm |

    Merry Christmas. Good wishes on your move back home.

  12. I’ve traveled the world and the return home was always the best part of doing so. Here’s to home!

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hVIrAhv7WNs

  13. “All my creative friends have anxiety in one form or another, the curse of a vivid imagination. It’s always the same fear: the ego’s dread of its destruction.“

    Deep wisdom, this.
    So true about creatives’ imaginations and anxiety.

    Figured you for a long term New Englander, CC.

  14. “…the spirit of Christmas, when one of mankind’s greatest spiritual teachers came to show us that the kingdom of God is within each one of us, but that we cannot enter it until we become as little children. To be reborn to divine reality is to live in a state of perpetual wonder, as if going through a second childhood, when all the world shines in freshness and fascination.”

    Well stated. But the entering of the Kingdom also demands that we look upon every other living human being as not only a neighbor, but a sibling in the household of God. Universal brotherhood-and-sisterhood. And let’s remember the most radical of all of his teachings about the Kingdom: that it belongs to the poor.

  15. Great post! The Son is born. Merry Christmas!

  16. Charlottesville | December 26, 2020 at 2:35 pm |

    Merry Christmas. I wish you all of the best back in California, and hope that it will not preclude meeting up again face-to-face for a drink and a chat at some point down the road. Very Merry Christmas season and a blessed new year to you.

  17. A periodic rebirth is essential in any form, be it physical, emotional, or phychological. I’ve been through several and have always seen my life and world through new eyes and have benefited from it. Merry Christmas and a better 2021 to you and all of the posters here on Ivy Style.

  18. C- I think you should start a new blog called “Aristocratic Style” which focuses on how royals, aristocrats and old money dress. I feel like I’ve explored every nook and cranny of ivy style. This topic aligns with what you are currently doing and could potentially have a broad appeal.

  19. Bill, that’s essentially a combination of Dandyism.net, which I ran from 2004-2008, and Ivy Style, which came directly afterwards. It’s perspicacious of you to see a connecting link where most were befuddled. Thank you for the inspiration, and I believe we can continue to combine the many branches of the trad tree here, with perhaps an extra emphasis on the patrician at this moment in time.

  20. Yikes! Haven’t you heard — Sonoma County burns up every year.

  21. Rene Lebenthal | January 5, 2021 at 3:54 am |

    Happy new year to you Christian and all the Ivy Style followers around the globe.
    I also wish you a happy return to your home. This is not an easy way to go but it can be very blessing. I hope it will be in your case, Cher Christian.
    Bonne année 2021 tout le monde !!
    René

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