Christmas has always been a magical time of year for this old guy. Growing up, my mom made Christmas memorable. She celebrated a religious Christmas (“And there were in the same country…”), but it was the non-religious trappings of Christmas that enchanted me. They still do. Every first weekend in December, I regress. I become a Christmas child.
A big part of it is the sights and sounds, the flavors and aromas. Packages under the tree, Christmas tree lights, the smell of Italian pizzelles and Russian teacakes, the special taste of those cheap, chocolate-covered cherries (always my Christmas present to Mom when I was a kid… and she was always surprised when she unwrapped it), the Christmas tree smell (Mom delayed buying the tree until almost Christmas Eve, in order to get one for $3), and the decorations we put out year after year. I remember the details of our manger scene like it was yesterday. Every year, I’d debate what color bulb to mount in the back of the stable, to create the special mood lighting for Baby Jesus. And every year I would choose blue, to make it look like starlight.
I remember one cold, clear Christmas Eve when my brother and I walked home after midnight mass at St. Mary Magdalen Church. (We weren’t Catholic, so that was a new experience for me.) There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and looking up at those stars, I imagined that’s what it must have looked like to the shepherds that night. I was young enough then that I still half believed – or wanted to believe – all of that.
And Christmas music was everywhere… Christmas carols being sung by a choir, secular anthems delivered by Nat, Bing and Frank, the classic sounds of the Harry Simeone Chorale. Christmas music is the sound track of December. Ba rum pa pum pum.
In fall of first grade, my family moved to a small town in rural Missouri. My biggest fear was that Santa wouldn’t be able to find me. My parents assured me he would, but I wasn’t sure… until Christmas morning. Somehow it all magically worked out.
Last year – 65 years later – I had the same fear: Would Christmas be able to find us in our new home? In our new… condo?
It was our first Christmas in the condo, and we had some decisions to make. First, where would the tree go? And where do we hang stockings, without a fireplace? In fact, where do we hang all the decorations we brought from the house? It was going to be a very different Christmas, indeed.
We began making decisions.
We could move the big chair a bit, and put the tree between the living and dining rooms. We could see it from every point in both rooms, and so could our neighbors across the courtyard.
Of course, the tree would be smaller. Lower ceilings. Six strands of lights, instead of nine. But it was a nice-sized, perfectly shaped Frazier fir that fit in the space. With that real-tree smell.
We could string pine roping and lights around the outside deck, with red bows hanging down. And we still found places to put the Christmas knickknacks we’d accumulated, including the cow that moos “Deck the Halls” when you squeeze him.
Most important were the tree ornaments accumulated from our many years of marriage, and from each of our childhoods. Ornaments linked to events, stories, places and people, many of them gone. No matter how small our tree was, all of those important memories had to fit on it. And they did.
Finally, the condo was Christmas-ready. Everything was hung. The tree and the deck were lit, packages were wrapped, and Nat King Cole was roasting his chestnuts. Smells of pizzelles and teacakes and pine. And most of all, the people who mattered – our family and close friends – were in one room together, raising our wine glasses in an almost-religious toast: God bless us everyone.
Christmas had magically found us after all, as it will again this year. Mom would approve. Except for the wine.
Merry Christmas from this old guy’s family to all of our friends and extended family, young and old. Ba rum pa pum pum.