Looks like December is shaping up to be a busy month socially – and that’s from a hate-winter freak who wants to hunker down inside (except for forays outside to shovel snow – yeck, get groceries – although I’m stocking up, and go for walks). There are four Christmas parties/gatherings, a birthday dinner (mine, tomorrow), coffee with an old school friend, and of course, Christmas Day. I’ve been preparing for all this bit by bit – perhaps taking the longest to get the Christmas decorations up – still have a few more to get outside. Weather and time-restraints are the culprits here. Heck, yesterday, an unusually warm day, I roared around finishing up the garden and yard clearing. And complaining loudly about it – not the doing but the timing. As I wound down to the finish, I smartened up. This was probably my last chance to do any garden/yard stuff until next spring and here I was outside on a beautiful day complaining.
So I started to think about Christmas activities and Christmases past and to come. I don’t recall it being a big race at Christmas when I grew up. It was more pleasant overall and my parents and I didn’t just sit at home for the Christmas season. Sometimes we went for Christmas dinner at an aunt’s and uncle’s on Dad’s side. Sometimes my mother’s youngest sister, my godmother, and some of her kids came down between Christmas and New Year’s for a short visit and dinner. And my mother was adventurous in her Christmas cooking – goose or duck, instead of turkey. Then there was the alternate visits with the Armstrongs – the neighbours across the street – our family and theirs took turns annually for an evening of talking, watching Christmas movies on TV and stuffing ourselves with “delicate” sandwiches with the crusts removed. And of course, there was the tree and Christmas Mass. Mom wouldn’t let me open the presents until we returned from church but she did let me raid the stocking. Among other things, “Santa” always brought an orange.
But I think it was Mom, Dad and I doing things together, like wrapping the presents and decorating the tree that hit the core of what Christmas meant to me as a child. As I write in my memoir, You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons:
When Dad drags the Christmas tree into the house, I inhale the pine fragrance. It fills me with anticipation made longer and harder to hold inside as Dad attempts to fit the tree trunk into the stand.
“Get in there,” he mutters in between loud grunts and even louder bangs with the hammer. “Julia, can you hold onto the end for me?” This to my mother.
I can’t watch the agony, so after Mom and I haul up the boxes of lights and ornaments from the basement, I sit in the kitchen and listen to the wall clock tick away time. “Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,” but it is only the green radio. I poke my head inside the living room.
“Is it ready yet?”
“Patience,” Mom says, handing Dad a screwdriver.
“It’s coming along.” He twists the red tree stand. “Okay, Julia, let’s push it up.”
And my parents heave the tree up to its majestic six feet, spreading dark green bristles in the corner by the archway and just brushing the mantle. Finally. I crouch down and dig into the box of ornaments.
“Wait a minute,” Mom says. “The lights come first.” And she and Dad twine the lights throughout the tree and I hold my breath one-two-three until I think I’ll pop, as Dad plugs in the lights and . . .
Nothing. One light has burned out and the only way to find the culprit is to remove each light, one at a time, and try a light that you hope might work. It is worse than waiting for Santa Claus. But when the miracle occurs, when the lights shine red, blue, white, yellow and green, throughout the tree, Christmas leaps days closer. Mom and I tackle the ornaments. I’m like a dog given the “yes,” for a walk, prancing around, reaching my paws down and up, and placing big coloured balls, small bells, and white plastic icicles on the sharp branches. Mom and I wrap tinsel – thin wavy light and big gold, which almost hides the lights, but they sparkle through. Then, I suck in my breath and look way up while Mom stands on the stepladder and places the angel in the top spot.
(Excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons, Copyright 2010 Sharon Crawford).
I’m still looking for an angel for my tree this year. The angel from my childhood is long gone, long broken. Its replacement, a glass one, fell to its shattering finale at the end of last Christmas season. So my tree (all two feet of it) sits on an end table with a long top branch reaching up to the sky as if hoping an angel will fly down and land on it. It has bright red LED lights and miniature decorations and yes, it is a fake tree. But it’s the intention and what it symbolizes that count.
What it doesn’t symbolize is rush-rush-rush-rush. I need to turn on my Hayley Westenra Christmas CD Winter Magic because that’s what it is all about – the magic of Christmas – yes, getting together with family and friends, but also savouring the in-between silence.
What says you? How do you spend the Christmas season?
Only Child Writes