Friday, December 22, 2006

The Best Christmas

There is no single best Christmas for me, but I do have a happy amalgam of memories and moments drawn from a couple of decades, a mishmash adding up to that mythical perfect Christmas the way it used to be. My mom and I used to turn off all the lights in the living room except for the tree and snuggle up on the couch with cups of hot chocolate to sit and look at the bright colors glowing against the walls and ceiling. Sometimes it would be snowing outside and we would lean over the back of the couch to watch the flakes swirling in the streetlights.

Christmas Eve I went to midnight mass with my dad's family. Grandma and Grandpa were the choir directors at the church--Grandma's still plugging away, pounding the keys and drilling the choir to exhaustion at 88--so it was unavoidable, but I got to sit up in the choir loft and get an angel's-eye view of all the candles and pine boughs. When I was in high school I hopped in with the choir; Grandpa always let me sing with the tenors even though I was a girl. Afterwards it was straight home and straight to bed, at least until I hit college. Once I hit some magical age--20, perhaps--I was invited to stay up with the other adults after mass.

All those years I'd gone to bed at the same time as my brothers, completely unaware that the adults got to stay up and sip hot toddies by the fire for an hour or so before turning in themselves. I was flabbergasted. What a completely civilized way to end Christmas Eve and toast in an early Christmas morning! The specific toddy was the Tom & Jerry, sort of a creamy warm eggnog with lots of rum. The recipe looks repulsive, but by firelight, sitting around the tree with parents and uncles and grandparents, finally in on the generations-old secret, it's a winner.

Later on, when I was officially grown up and a parent myself, I still loved taking that last hour or so after putting the boy to bed to turn off all the lights except for the tree, snuggle up on the couch, and sit in the quiet for a while, soaking in the peace, re-living for a few moments everything that simple act brought back to me from long ago and far away.

Maybe I will recapture some of that this year, finding a way to push away the chaos (generally happy chaos, but chaos nonetheless) long enough to close my eyes, take a deep breath of pine, and see the world however briefly through brightly colored lights.

No comments: