Don’t look at the calendar if you are faint of heart. This time next week will be Christmas Eve. Panic ensues.
My Christmas tree is still in a bucket out back, the pine roping still in the backseat of my car, where it had been for some time, and while it gives my errands a lovely pine-forest scent, my mantel would like some festive garb and the the little niches in the living room look pretty bare and sorry, too.
I know a bit about being terrorized by beautiful Christmas decorations. My sister alone has scalped several magnolias in her
neighborhood–some with permission, some, I suspect, without. She travels the streets in darkness, driving slowly, trunk open and clippers on the passenger seat. We try not to look and we never ask.
Her house is festooned–there is no other word for it–with magnolia and three different kinds of pine, a half-mile of gold ribbon and spotlights. Inside there will be a fire going. There is nary a cookie baking. It’s not her thing.
Food is my thing, and I pore over cookbooks and even when I get
around to decorating the mantel, I usually throw some walnuts and clove-studded oranges in among the greenery. I buy flour, brown sugar and marshmallow cream in school kitchen proportions, which reminds me. I need to go toss out last year’s, to make room for more.
I rarely get around to all my baking projects but it comforts me to think I might. Where do you think the cloves and walnuts come from? The point is, some of us decorate, some of us bake, some of us just think we are going to do those things, and it doesn’t really matter, as long as what we do brings us joy.
The grey and wintry weather has me thinking of other Christmases, and the ones that come to mind, my favorite moments on Christmas Eve, are the least likely to seem nostalgic and are, by themselves, hardly memorable.
Twenty years ago, maybe more, I was young and working at the college, a new faculty member with other new faculty members. It was Christmas Eve, mid-afternoon. Three of us, unattached and free of responsibility with the exception of showing up at parents’ homes on Christmas Day, found ourselves at loose ends. Our pals bolted from the office to pick up their kids, get Santa Claus ready, I don’t know what all.
We ended up at Colby’s, talking, enjoying the warmth of the restaurant we had to ourselves, as the staff clattered plates around us, for soon they would close. We watched the snow begin, big feathery flakes that wouldn’t add up to much, but delighted us in that moment.
It was impromptu and unhurried, and as companionable an afternoon as I have spent before or since. I couldn’t tell you what we talked about, work, probably, and movies, maybe something philosophical, but only just. A small afternoon, a small moment, but not a Christmas goes by that I don’t think of it.
As a graduate student in Bowling Green, I worked part-time on the crisis line. It fell to me to work on Christmas Eve until midnight. I dreaded it, to be honest.
Statistics tell us Christmas Eve is the hardest day of the year on the lonely, the sad, the broken. The phone, though, was oddly silent until about eight p.m. Then, it rang, and rang and rang, not with crisis calls, but with Christmas greetings.
Our clients were in the habit of calling regularly. Some called every day, every shift, it was their only contact with the outside world. Or, perhaps their therapist asked them to call throughout the week, just to check in, to help keep them on an even keel.
They knew us by name and we knew them. On that evening they called to see who was the unlucky one to work on Christmas Eve. They called to keep me company. They called to wish me Merry Christmas. That was it. Just checking on me. Making sure I wasn’t too sad.
I thought about it on that long drive home at midnight. The idea of Christmas, how Christmas Eve can be good, without candles, and punch bowls, without even seeing another person’s face, but together all the same.
Or happy and warm in a public place. Snow falling. Safe. I’d give every perfect bow, every pretty cookie for more of that.