Christmas time is normally a happy time for me. The world, of course, continues working as it normally does, with events paying scant attention to the calendar. Sadly, even at Christmas time, people get ill, and people die.
And of course there are still the normal, smaller stresses of life: driving children around, doing laundry, paying bills and the suffering of occasional indigestion or sniffles. But mostly, for my wife and I, times are good. We got our Christmas tree up at the beginning of the month, rather than the night before Christmas. I got most of my Christmas shopping done early and even the food for Christmas dinner was already waiting in my freezer long before Christmas Eve. When I put gasoline in my car during Christmas shopping trips to the mall, I almost chuckled rather than groaned—pleased to find that it is actually cheaper to fill my tank this year than it was last Christmas. Certainly not something I would have expected even a month ago.
On the radio, and in the stores, Christmas carols ring. At church, the normal songs have given way to Christmas hymns. Around town, the houses are decorated in sparkling lights and the smell of pine fills many a visited home. On television, the familiar Christmas movies are rerun, while the weekly series perform mostly insipid Christmas themed stories, usually a takeoff on Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, O’Henry’s Gift of the Magi—or maybe something where Santa Claus turns out to be real after all.
Meanwhile newscasters do obligatory stories either bemoaning that not enough people are out spending money and buying gifts—or else denouncing once again how commercialized Christmas has become. Oddly, no one does news stories on how commercialized their own birthdays have gotten—nor have I heard any of them indicate that they do not plan on accepting any of the presents that they might receive Christmas morning. Meanwhile, between stories, they run commercials for all the Christmas sales in the big department stores.
My in-laws will once again descend upon my home, arriving early on Christmas morning to join in the giving and receiving of presents while my wife sets up our video camera to record the whole thing to a DVD that we’ll likely never watch—given that I’ve never watched any of the videos from the previous twenty-one Christmases since our first child arrived in our house. I remember that first Christmas: she’d come to us but a couple weeks earlier, a tiny eight pound four-month old, undernourished and neglected. At nine on Christmas Eve she’d started crying and we discovered she had a fever. It was significant enough that we wound up taking her to the emergency room, where we waited with her until nearly four AM on Christmas morning. Perhaps not the best way to spend a Christmas Eve, but we rejoiced anyway because she turned out to be okay. Now she’s junior in college and never gets sick. And she’s been joined by two sisters, now both eighteen.
In the kitchen, Christmas cookies have appeared. The smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and sugar fills the air. The office party at my work is a quiet affair: as a writer, I’m the only one in my office here at home, after all.
Outside, temperatures have dropped. letting even those of us living in California know that Christmas is coming. There’s even some small chance of snow according to the weather service, despite the fact that my lawn is still bright green and needs mowing.
So Christmas for me now is mostly happy and relaxed. I try hard not to take it for granted or lose sight of its real meaning: the best Christmas present of all.