Perhaps you are reading this first thing this morning, coffee in hand, still dark outside. You are up early, not to feed the birds, or for quiet time, but to prepare to work through the list, that list that seems to grow longer every day, no matter how many items you have checked off.
Perhaps you are reading this, mid-afternoon, all out of steam, reading for a small diversion, because, really, you are just about at the end of your rope, and the kids are just getting wound up, or wound up again for the fourth time today, and the cookies have burned, and the candy won’t set, and you dribbled something permanent on your favorite Christmas sweater a year ago, and now what will you wear tonight?
Perhaps you won’t read this until tomorrow, or Friday, or at all, because as priorities go on this, one of the busiest days of the year, reading this column ranks somewhere down there between planning the 4th of July fireworks bash and selecting your 2015 fantasy football team.
Perhaps you are listening to music, all your favorites. Burl Ives wishing you a “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Silver Bells” and you think of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, although you don’t have an inkling what to do with them once they are roasted, and there is an ordinance against open flames in the city, but still. And as tiresome as that song might be, we would miss it if it disappeared from the rotation.
Maybe you are listening to Handel’s “Messiah” or some Christmasy Bach. I have my ear tuned to “Once in Royal David’s City,” a song I have heard for years but am just now paying attention to. It isn’t so very old, the tune and lyrics written in the mid-1800’s. It was first poem written by Cecil Frances Alexander, who also gave us “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” and it was set to music by an English organist, Henry John Gauntlett, which explains its majestic swells and why it is often used as a processional hymn at Christmas Eve services.
My friends in the Czech Republic will gather tonight with their families to enjoy their traditional Christmas Eve fare, carp and potato salad. The carp will have been bought live from big vats in the city center, and brought home for a few laps in the family bathtub before, well, you know.
They will save the Christmas cookies and cakes for tomorrow as they spend the day wandering from home to home, pub to pub, toasting each other with slivovice and chilled sweet wine. I have friends with Italian mamas and they will sit down tonight to the feast of the seven fishes.
My southern friends with southern mamas will have a nice glazed—make that candied–ham. My family will gather to circulate around the table in an unending loop, filling our plates with a mishmash of favorites, Czech garlic spread, hot artichoke dip, strong imported blue cheeses which no one eats but the guys and Hannah, my mother’s icebox cookies, a jam cake or two, maybe a ham, maybe shrimp, supplemented by whatever else we had energy to prepare.
We don’t care all that much, as long as we are laughing and the line keeps moving. Christmas Eve can be for a crowd, or for a couple. There can be food lovingly–or grudgingly–prepared, or there can be pizza.
I have spent some Christmas Eves alone, and that has been nice, too, all quiet, and calm, and peaceful. But, if nothing else, on Christmas Eve there should be light. Nothing garish or overly bright. The Christmas tree lights in a darkened room, or here and there a couple of candles.
Or just one. Just enough light to draw the eye, the heart.
Light enough to gaze upon and ponder. Wonder. And wonder some more.