I find that I enjoy the weeks between mid-November and early January even more as an adult than I did as a child. I owe much of that to B – someone with whom every celebration has a new found joy. Together we have created a magical approach to Christmastime that incorporates our favored family traditions and rituals more typically present in childhood memories. It is full of the simple pleasures we are often hesitant to indulge in as adults and infused with a version of our youthful, (and at times sickly sweet,) love for each other that is unencumbered by reality. It’s terribly cheesy and wonderfully cliché. (I would undoubtedly find it nauseating if I were an observer rather than a participant.)
Every year we anticipate the commencement of the festivities like small children - and on the tail end are always hesitant to take down the tree and let the holiday cheer slip out the door with it. We decorate our tree over a few days – not because a tremendous amount of precision is required - but because we have created a ritual that takes as much time and storytelling as an Irish wake. We start at the bottom of the tree with B’s strand of plastic “candle” lights, (“These were made before you were born honey,”) and add the ornaments we have amassed separately and as a couple, sharing memories and anecdotes that are represented by each decoration as we move around the tree. I make B tell me a story for every third ornament or so, and go back to the tree in the weeks that follow to point out those left unaddressed in the initial days. “What about this one? How old were you when your Mom gave you this little red cat? Did you make this one in school?”
We schedule dinners, ice skating, and cocktail hours with our friends and extended family throughout the month, and make a point to see everyone in San Francisco that we hold near and dear to our hearts before travelling to see our immediate families. We visit Nob Hill at least once each year to view the intricate gingerbread masterpieces and towering Christmas trees, the latter always drowning in gilt trimmings and miles of velvet ribbon. We wade through throngs of WASPs all a-buzz with pre Grace Cathedral concert excitement to admire the Clark Griswold style lights that drip off the trees in Huntington Park. We bake Christmas cookies and then freeze them to be removed one or two – ok, maybe 4 - at a time and eaten under the tree with tea or hot coco while watching “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” (B has asked me to specify that this is “the one that features “Heatmiser” and “Coldmiser.””) We get down on the floor with fleece blankets a few times a week just to look up at our tree while we talk about our day or plans for the coming weeks. We see one man Christmas plays with my uncle in tiny art house theatres and go to choral concerts in awe-inspiring Cathedrals where honeyed voices slide down the aisles and seep out the stained glass windows. We see everything and everyone we love in San Francisco under the glow of fairy lights, smile through cabernet stained lips, and laugh over sticky toffee pudding in our favorite restaurants.
The days just before and after Christmas are filled with the sound of my sister’s laughter, warm, sweet hugs from my tiny niece, and healthy doses of alcohol induced sibling repartee. They involve fiercely competitive games of scrabble, brisk walks on cold afternoons in South Carolina, and an endless pursuit of my 1 ½ year old nephew’s affection. My father sits by the fireplace in his chair with an open book that mostly serves as merely an accessory, as his gaze is more often turned to his children playing on the floor with his grandchildren rather than to the words on the pages. I find contentment in battling over the Irish chocolates, remote control, or spot next to my niece on the couch, and that kind of happiness is matched only with the receipt of an unsolicited kiss from my nephew.
The season is a celebratory circuit of sorts - full of gluttonous indulgences, beautiful food and wine and great company, and so many moments that make you think, “This is what life is supposed to be about.” I always feel such a void when all the trimmings are packed away and twinkling lights no longer dance across storefronts, down lamp poles and through my home. As an adult, I now realize that the sadness felt when Christmastime has passed is not due to the absence of a fine-looking tree or upbeat Christmas carols playing everywhere you go. It is due to the absence of that celebratory state of mind that allows us to let go just enough to see everything we have to be thankful for quite clearly, and to truly appreciate and enjoy all of it.
It is sometimes more natural and most certainly more common to focus on all that is lacking, complicated, or cumbersome in our lives. Christmastime encourages us to do the opposite - and so we grow attached to that cheerful state of mind and long for it after it has slipped away. But I finally realized that even when the sweet smell of gingerbread is gone from our homes and the holiday specials have disappeared from the evening lineup, we can still celebrate each other, celebrate our blessings and acknowledge all that is wonderful in our lives. We simply don’t do these things enough. We should fight to hold on to even just a little bit of that merriment come the grey, muddled months of winter. There is nothing wrong with childlike anticipation and enjoyment. If anything, we need to celebrate life more and more as we get older. We need to remember to honor our friends and family with little gestures, big family dinners, or seemingly silly rituals once a month or even once a week. We simply need to remember more often that it does not have to be Christmastime to celebrate life.