There are things I love about the Christmas season. The sense of hope and excitement, the renewed emphasis on doing things for others, the traditional activities and events.
The decorations and lights – I really love Christmas lights.
My first memories of Christmas are of the sharp pine scent from the tree, my father and grandfather muscling it in through the front door while my mother and grandmother scurried behind them sweeping fallen needles off the dark wood floor. I hovered in the doorway on the other side of the room, watching from afar as they wrestled it into place in the red metal stand. Once they finally secured it in place – an operation that usually resulted in much grunting and groaning and half-muttered expletives – the fun part could begin.
Lights, strands and strands of big, bulbous lights in all the primary colors. Plus bubble lights, thin colored cylinders containing effervescent liquid that magically burbled away. Tinsel – skinny, silvalicious strands draped all over the branches. The ornaments came last, blue, gold, red, green, silver balls of thinnest glass.
When it was all done, my mother tucked a red felt skirt around the bottom.
My father switched out all the lights, save for those on the tree.
Oh, the glory of that room bathed in the rainbow colored glow of the Christmas tree. It washed over me like the warmth of baptismal water. It filled my tiny spirit with excitement and wonder and peace.
That’s the feeling I keep looking for now, more than 50 years after those first early memories of Christmas times. That feeling of being enveloped in wonder, in love, of being cherished and nurtured.
When I was growing up, Christmas was easy to navigate. My maternal grandparents lived with us. Several of my aunts and uncles on my mother’s side were nearby. My paternal grandfather lived five miles away. My father’s siblings and all my cousins lived within hailing distance. We saw them all at some point on the Christmas Eve-Christmas Day continuum.
Now, everyone in my family is scattered hither and thither. My father, gravely ill with cancer and Parkinson’s disease, is in Florida. My mother, frail but still fighting, is here in Michigan. My only child, with his wife and child, are in Texas. My grandparents are, of course, long dead and buried, and most of my aunts and uncles with them.
No one wrestles a pine tree into the living room. We just pull one out of the box (pre-lit) and plug it in.
There is no juggling of schedules in order to make it to all the relatives houses before the end of Christmas day.
Tonight, we had my mother here to our new home, and celebrated our tiny Christmas. I made dinner, and she sat at our dining room table which she says is the most beautiful dining room table she has ever seen. She picked at her food, as she is wont to do now. She opened her presents – new warm pajamas, candy and nuts, and the traditional calendar featuring pictures of the two little dogs we all love so dearly. She went home to her big house, where she will be alone for the next week.
Tomorrow, my husband and I will fly to Texas to visit our son, daughter-in-law and grandson for Christmas. We are blessed beyond measure to have this new child in our family, to have his parents together to raise him with love and security. We are in awe of him, and would be perfectly happy spending every day just watching him do what he does.
But tonight when I drove my mother home, I realized that I will never have my family all together at Christmas again. I wonder what it would have been like – if my parents had not gotten divorced, if my son had not moved away, if we had all stayed in one place like people used to do. I imagine my grandson here in my living room playing with his toys, my son and daughter in law sprawled on the floor beside him and my parents tucked side by side on the sofa. The dogs would sleep quietly on the hearth (except for Molly, who snores something awful) while the fire gently blazed. Jim and I would pour a glass of wine and survey the scene.
I would turn off all the lights save for those on the huge pine tree we had wrestled into that empty corner by the staircase.
And I would be bathed in wonder and love.
Wishing you the peace and beauty of Christmas, the joy of family, and the hope of a bright tomorrow.