Saturday, December 10, 2011

Blue Christmas

Christmas 1968
As a kid, I started drafting letters to Santa as soon as my Halloween candy ran out. On Christmas morning, my parents didn’t let us come downstairs until eight a.m., so my sister and I lay awake for hours, watching the clock. (“What time is it now?”) As a grown-up, my sleepless nights have more to do with stress—not an elf in sight to help with the shopping—but I still find magic in the lights, the carols and smiles of strangers on the street.

Still, it’s hard not to wish for the old days, when traveling over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house didn’t involve a strip-search at the airport. Oh, to be young again, believing that Santa really ate the plate of cookies, and “peace on earth, good will towards men” was possible, if only we opened our hearts.

Christmas 1962
Opening our hearts—the true magic of Christmas. The holidays give us permission to be sappy, to say “I love you” to people who’d normally laugh. We moan the materialism of the season, but the giving of gifts is a way of expressing our love. (Just ask the three wise men.) Our memories of finding the bike from Santa are tied up in knowing that our parents drove to three different malls and stayed up half the night assembling the parts.

If you were lucky, like me, you felt loved at Christmas.

Christmas 1959
For as long as Grandma Reinhardt was alive, we had a holiday party in Medina, Ohio, that ran to fifty relatives or more. My sister and I were the youngest by a decade, forever stuck at the kids’ table. We put on a Christmas program complete with scripture readings and carols, and then we launched into a raucous “white elephant” gift exchange. I can still see my normally somber grandparents giggling and tussling over a package, almost knocking over the aluminum Christmas tree.

They’re gone now, along with most of the people in the snapshot. Our branch of the family moved south. We haven’t seen the Ohio cousins in twenty years. We’ve made our own traditions, but still, I go through the holidays with a lump in my throat. Cards arrive from Up North, and I fantasize about a holiday road trip. (Do we even have snow tires?) Rascal Flatts’ version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is too woeful to bear. At the midnight service on Christmas Eve, the trick will be balancing a candle in one hand and a flammable wad of tissue in the other.

Christmas 1983
If this is the most wonderful time of year, why the sadness? Don’t worry. I’ll snap out of it. Over the years, I’ve come to accept my Blue Christmas period as normal for December. I don’t feel guilty for mourning the ghosts of Christmas past. They’re too vivid a presence. The holidays revolve around family, memories and tradition, so how could we not miss the loved ones who aren’t with us?

This season, I’ll cherish the friends and family who gather around our tree, and I’ll make a special effort to create new memories for the younger generation. One day, I imagine, they’ll sit down to brunch on Christmas morning and miss Aunt Alison, who made a scrumptious cheese soufflĂ© and covered the placemats in wrapping paper and always got a little weepy at some point in the day.

The thought warms my heart.