My role for years, as the only kid in my family, was to believe. To believe in magic. To believe in love. To believe in the sanctity of our home. To make us a family. To be gleeful. To be sure my eyes lit up so brightly on Christmas morning that my Mom across the room would be caught in my eye-light’s high beam. My light made her smile. Still does, I think. Not sure.
But one year, after Mom returned to the hospital at the end of a one-day pass, I yanked down the tinsel garland draped over all the doorways in our house. I collected the shiny Santas and the snowman clutter from the tabletops and the top of our piano, and I shoved them all back into their boxes. I called an end to Christmas before the day was done. I was finished with the sham.
My dad stood stunned, stung, flabbergasted. I held my fists in balls and dared him to stop me. He would not. He knew I needed this. But through his eyes, I saw my own fury, and allowed it to ebb, ever so slightly – or maybe it was his open mouth that called me back. I did not right then, right there un-decorate the tree. For both our sakes, I left it to twinkle a few more days. Somebody (or something), after all, needed to supply light if I was done. I may have known that much.
What I didn’t know yet was that I had closed down my Christmas spirit for years to come. Maybe his, too. What I didn’t realize when I left that small tree to glow in my place was that Christmas is what we make it, what I make it, how I make it. This, it is taking me years to grasp.
How I make it — and I need to remind myself this every year, every hour, every minute of every hour every year when Christmastime comes around — is with presence. Not presents, but presence.
It’s the care I put into selecting or creating each gift. It’s the preparation of food on Christmas Eve. It’s the brewing of coffee on Christmas morning. It’s carols. It’s candles. It’s cards written to people I love. It’s the scent of evergreen.
It’s children – yes – and pets, too. It’s recognizing the magic in people I love – or in people I don’t yet know. It’s the neighbor who leaves just what I need on my doorstep (cookies, a snow shovel, the scarf I left at her house the other day). It’s someone’s hand in mine. It’s locking eyes with my Honey or my girls for a moment between photos.
It’s what I make it, how I make it, who I make it with.
It’s the last-minute text message from a close friend inviting me clothes shopping one week before Christmas – clothes shopping for ourselves. It’s dinner out with another dear friend – sushi, back home for beer and bourbon, TV, conversation – up the next morning, hanging out in my PJs with this same friend, coffee in our steaming mugs, everyone’s hair a mess.
I remind myself daily – more than daily now – to open my Christmas presence. Simply open myself. To what is magical. To what is fresh. To what is.
And I remind myself to share the light. However crookedly it sits on our darling tree.
From our house to yours.