December, 1960, I’m sitting on the floor in our living room, my back pressed against the wall next to the fragrant evergreen tree dripping with silvery tinsel and glittering with multi colored lights. My short legs extend before me, the red corduroy pant legs slightly worn at the knee. My feet are shoeless as usual, encased only in the white anklets I wear every day. Beside me lies Ginger, our placid little spaniel, snoring peacefully. On my lap – a book.
December 1970, I’m lying on the floor in our living room, my head underneath the silver branches of our aluminum Christmas tree, beside me the color wheel whirring relentlessly, casting its red/blue/green/orange glow on the walls of our darkened living room. My bell- bottomed Levi’s cover all but the tips of fuzzy red slipper socks. Beside me, our plump cocker spaniel, Honey, keeps a vigilant eye on the kitchen. Open before me – a book.
December 2008, I’m curled into the corner of a large overstuffed chair. The house is dark, save for the warm lights on the small decorated Christmas tree atop the table beside me. Candles illuminate the mantel, dressed with garlands of greenery and my collection of angel ornaments and figurines. Beside me lies Magic, my ever vigilant and over protective shih-tzu, while his sister Molly dozes contentedly on the ottoman at my feet. On my lap – a book.
It would seem my most vivid Christmas memories have virtually nothing to do with gifts or parties, but with the aura of peace and contentment surrounding my reading rituals under the Christmas tree. Reading by “tree – light” is one of my oldest personal “traditions,” one that began when I was barely old enough to hold a book, and I suspect the “reading” was simply a recollection of words that were read to my by doting parents and grandparents. But I eventually became a ravenous reader for real, and the tradition grew to include certain volumes which must be read every Christmas. My signature was scrawled on the library card for Little Men, Louisa May Alcott’s sequel to her famous story of the March sisters, every year from 1964 to 1969. There was a biography of Isadora Duncan in our school library that was also a must read every December. And an illustrated rendering of The Nutcracker also came home with me each year for Christmas tree reading. And I re-read each volume of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books that I owned, in anticipation of the new one I would receive as a gift from my cousin Cora.
My parents would likely be surprised to know how deeply ingrained these memories have become, how every year I recall those rooms and those times when I was surrounded by the warm, comforting glow of white lights and evergreen branches, where I could escape into the world of my favorite books and live a fantasy life for just a little while. Of course the Barbie Dream House and Easy Bake Oven made a fleeting impression. And the purple sting ray bike was rather nice. But the world of books and the power of reading is everlasting, and has grown rather than diminished with age.
There’s no way to predict which traditions our children will recall most fondly, which will become cornerstones of their existence. Perhaps it will be the family gatherings with Grandma’s famous chocolate cake and caramel frosting, or placing cookies and milk on the table for Santa each Christmas Eve. Maybe the music you play on the stereo while decorating the tree, or the annual drive through the most fabulously decorated neighborhoods in your hometown.
Or maybe it will be the tradition they create for themselves, the special moments they spend in the comfort of their own presence, doing something that brings a sense of peace and fulfillment to their life.
How about you? Do you have a favorite holiday tradition that belongs to only you?