Annnnnd just like that, it's Thanksgiving already. My son and I were on our way to pick my daughter up on Friday night and would you believe it, there were a few houses already lit up with their Christmas yard displays?
Seven years ago, before I started working in an industry that ships about 50% of its annual sales in the last three months of the year, this was my favorite season. Thanksgiving through New Year's Day, crisp, winter nights, bright lights, big meals, fabulous desserts, parties and lots and lots of lovely times with friends and family.
Now its all selling our souls to get truckers when no one has any capacity and physical inventory planning and opening on extra days so we can get all the shipments out. After I get done closing the books for the year (on the morning of the first of January, while all the rest of you lazy arses are sleeping off your hangovers) I will breathe a large sigh of relief and start gearing up for next year.
I still love Christmas, however. Its long been my most favorite holiday. Having kids was a wonderful way to keep the magic alive. Even when I'm ragged and tired from doing all the Things That Require Doing, they make sure that Christmas is appropriately celebrated. The day after Thanksgiving, while insane people are tearing each other to pieces over the last mismatched pair of cashmere gloves on the shelf at Macy's, I will be rousted out of bed by two gleeful creatures and I will not be allowed to rest until the house is completely transformed from our boring, slightly messy everyday habitat to ALL CHRISTMAS ALL THE TIME WITH ALL THE LIGHTS AND STUFF.
Ok, I am only trying to sound as if this makes me cranky. In truth, the day we start Christmas-ing is hands down one of my favorite days of the year, other than Christmas itself.
A big part of what makes it so special is adding the newest decorations my kids' teachers have helped them lovingly craft to the 12 years of other equally lovingly crafted ornaments, wall hangings, drawings, paintings and holiday pottery they've given me. There's the "Merry Christmas" banner Amazon Girl made in first grade, painted in red and green on part of an old pillowcase and strung onto a green wire hanger wrapped in ribbon. There's the foam star lined with gold paint and bearing a smiling picture of Race Car Man as a toddler. There are wood ornaments and cloth ornaments and even the wonderful ornaments my mother made from styrofoam balls, scraps of fancy cloth and gold and silver rick-rack. Every year when the holidays end I faithfully store each piece, adding the newest treasures. Opening up the boxes and unpacking everything sends my mind traipsing off into a melting pot of holiday memories. Nostalgia is a funny thing, because no matter how much angst or family drama or financial difficulties past Christmases might have held, the memories that drift nearest for me to catch and relive are those of good conversations, wonderful dinners, smiles and laughter and times spent with people and pets I love, some of whom are no longer with me today.
Once the inside of the house is Christmas-ified, its time to put up lights. Of all the things I enjoy about Christmas, the lights are right up near the top of the list. I've never done anything particularly fancy or special with our Christmas lights, but at the very least I feel that by putting them up I'm participating in some small way in lighting up the winter darkness.
Once the lights are up, the house becomes a welcoming beacon each night as we make our way home in the dark from work and school. It is our warm place, our safe place, the place we gratefully find respite from the cold. It is the place where we gather around our table, give thanks and enjoy hot food and each others' company, where my children's laughter gives respite from the many months of chilly dark. Christmas carols will be played on the piano, strummed on the guitar and sung in a cacophony of voices. We'll sit down and watch Rudolph and Frosty and The Sound of Music for the eleventy-zillionth time. We'll wrap presents and bake cookies and make hot cocoa with marshmallows. Maybe it will even snow!
The days until Christmas will pass - too quickly for me, agonizingly slow for the kids - and then it will be Christmas Eve, and while my kids pretend to sleep I will pretend to enjoy assembling toys with far too many small, complicated parts. There will be nothing at all pretend Christmas morning about their joy in discovering their presents, or mine in watching them do so. We will try, as always, not to let the commercialism of the holiday overwhelm our faith or undermine the spiritual meaning of the day. Later we'll gather with family and when we hold hands to give thanks, the saying of that grace will feel more meaningful than on any other day of the year.
I find that if I condense all of the wonderful things I love about Christmas, it is possible to apply it like a balm to the stress of work and the worries of life. It takes away the sting, eases the pressure, reminds me to leave the daily grind behind, to focus on what's good and bright and beautiful. In glimmering red and gold, Christmas tells me that we're halfway through the darkness and soon there will be light. It reminds me to see life through my childrens' eyes for a while -- there is plenty of time to be (or pretend to be) an adult.
Oh, Christmas. I'm so glad you're almost here.