This Thing Called Courage

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas Everyone!


I'M FALLING ASLEEP AT THE SWITCH here as my mother would say, but want to at least wish everyone a joyous and wonderful holiday, and the best of everything in 2007. Tomorrow my family is gathering at the home of my nephew Christian in Atkinson, NH, for our Christmas celebration. So I've been doing a lot of wrapping tonight, and also baked my semi-famous Gruyere and Scallion Biscuits, as I was requested to-- a command performance.

I think so often of the joy and wonder that would seize me almost by the throat at this time of year when I was a child-- I still get occaisonal flashes of that, fortunately enough-- and tonight I am wondering if my joy and wonder was like your joy and wonder. Of course the whole idea of Santa coming would trigger it, as well as the moment itself when we would wake up Christmas Morning, and it still being dark, and rushed out to the 'parlor' to find a strew of gifts under the tree-- but other things, little things, funny things, would trigger this breathtaking feeling as well. We were coming back from 'Town' one evening (Boston-- there were no suburban malls then) and we were driving through Watertown. As we came up to an intersection, I spied, from the back seat, someone's home, all decorated for the season-- with nothing but blue lights, the old fashioned, big bulbed kind. I had never seen the like of it, and it literally took my breath away. Every other set of lights I had seen were white, or multi-colored-- or that old-fashioned ('50's-'60's) orange. But here was blue! Hiding as much as it was revealing and somehow numinous.

And then there was the night my parents were one street over at a Christmas Party. My older sisters were babysitting me and Bobby, the latter one year older than me. We were expected to go to bed at a certain hour, but when the time came we flat-out refused. We were far too 'excikalick,' as we called it in my family. Peggy and Maureen tried every trick in the book, to no avail. Finally, we were sitting at the kitchen table, and the front doorbell rang. Peggy rose up from the table and with solmen voice intoned, "I bet that's Santa and he's probably going to be furious that you're not in bed." Bobby and I looked at each other with utter horror and terror as Peggy went down the hall to answer the door. "No Santa, they're not in bed yet," we could hear her say once she'd opened the door. "I tried but they wouldn't go. Yes, I'll ask them again." When she came back to the kitchen we could barely make a sound. "He said he'll come back in ten minutes, but if you're not in bed, he's going to keep going," Peggy reported. Well, you never saw two recalcitrant boys hustle off to bed faster. To this day, I don't know how they made the front doorbell ring...

Very frequently, our mother would hide presents for us, here and there over the weeks as she did her shopping-- and then forget where she had stashed them. (It was vital that she did that, for, anytime she would leave the house when we were still at home, Bobby and I would go on 'raids' as we called them, looking everywhere for the stash.) I can remember coming home from some family event a few days after Christmas, and there on the kitchen table were two shining orange Tonka dump trucks, one for me, and one for Bobby. We were flabbergasted! How did they get there? Who put them there? Why three days after Christmas? Our bewilderment and pleasure knew no bounds. No mother disavowed any knowledge, but finally surmised that Santa must have forgotten to bring them the first time round, on Christmas Eve. The idea that Santa had come back to our house a few days after Christmas, while we were all out, was staggering and a little bit frightening.

And then there were the Christmas plays that our school would put on every year, each classroom presenting some differnt tableaux. To be up so late at night, and to hear one's breath leave you at the moment the heavy maroon curtain lifted and there were, seemingly, thousands of people out there in the audience, ready and waiting to be entertained. And the anticipation! "I don't think I'm going to make it this year," I said to my mother one year, two weeks before Christmas. It just didn't seem possible that I could wait, the excitement and anticipation were that overwhelming. We would set up the manger scene in the fireplace, with giant pine branches behind the stable and one shining candle somehow arranged back there-- that was the star. The whole cast was assembled, but Baby Jesus in his tiny bed of hay wouldn't appear until Christmas Morning, and this miraculous appearence he somehow managed himself, my parents disavowing any knowledge of how he-- or a plastic rendition thereof-- would get there. But alas! One year my Mom apparently forgot where she had hidden him, and he was several days late in appearing-- I can't remember now exactly how she explained that one.

When one thinks of the Spirit of Christmas, I suppose we mean a feeling of goodwill, benevolence, warmth towards humanity, a sense that, despite the many ills that besmirch this world, this is still a beautiful place, being guided by a Spirit of love and care. Bobby and I used to ask each other when we were very young, "Do you have the Christmas Spirit yet?" Sometimes the answer would be yes; sometimes no. To me it's not just that feeling of benevolence; there must be a dash of wonder, a belief in the miraculous, thrown into the heady mix as well. It still finds me occasionally, as it did earlier this evening, when I got out of the car after doing a few last-minute errands, and was carrying my bundles into the house, Fionn the Dog in tow. I stopped for a moment, and peered through the woods out back behind my house. It was very quiet and dark. From somewhere out in those woods, one single blue light was shining back at me.

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