And so this is Christmas

There are the children’s ornaments, one to commemorate each of their years, turning the tree into a time capsule of their youth. And here are the cookies your grandma used to make, and the tablecloth your great-grandmother crocheted. As you take out of their styrofoam boxes each of the ceramic North Pole houses your father collected in the ’90s, remember how your son used to love them and was so good about not touching the reindeer and elves, even though he wanted so badly to play with them. He’s grown up now, and now the village lives here, in your house, even though he does not. Your daughter is, too, though she still likes to snuggle her pup (who’s turned into an old dog), and she still wants her apple cut up like sunshine.

One night, after the gifts have been opened and the stockings emptied and the logs in the fireplace lit, you’ll find yourself returning to the words of a Yeats poem that haunted you 30 or more years ago. Even though you are not yet grey, or even old (not really, not yet), you’ll understand them in a way you didn’t then, and you’ll wonder at the mysteries science can’t explain–how you somehow knew (when it seems you couldn’t have, because so many of the pages in your book were still blank and could, in theory or fantasy, be filled with any number of possibilities) that those words were meant for you, that for you love, even at Christmas (or especially at Christmas), would be a pacing thing that hides amid a crowd of stars.

14 thoughts on “And so this is Christmas

  1. Kate says:

    Oh, your photographs! I think my favorite must be Will’s hat on the banister, but all of them are beautiful snapshots filled with love. But you also managed to capture that wistful/melancholy THING that happens at Christmas. Especially with your reference to Yeats and John Lennon.

    Unrelated aside: I’m jealous of your not gray. My MIL’s first comment to me this Christmas was “You really are quite gray. Did you stop dying your hair?” (I did. Last year. And I am, but the question – with it’s obvious answer stung.)
    Kate recently posted…MadnessMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Kate, for getting me. For letting me know that I’m not the only for whom Christmas inevitably brings the wistful/melancholy THING. The Lennon song, big in my childhood, has always made me feel sorrowful in the way the Yeats poem did. I have a distinct memory of hearing it on the radio one Christmas. I was in the car with my parents and grandparents and brother, and we were trying to get to my great-grandmother’s farm to celebrate the holiday–but it was snowstorming. We were pulled off to the side of the freeway, and my dad and grandfather were outside trying to get the chains on in the blowing cold. We ended up not getting there, which shocked me: Going to the farm was part of Christmas, and it couldn’t really be Christmas otherwise. (Could it?) I was filled with such disbelief when the car turned back toward my grandparents’ house. That song fused with that experience for me, and later, as I better understood the context of the song, it seemed even more about the loss of some kind of innocence for me. The idea that war can be over if it you want it to be–well, that seems about as child-like as my belief that of course we would get to the farm because we just had to.

      And, I don’t know if that aside is unrelated. (insert rueful smile) I’m sorry the question stung. I have been envious of those with dark hair, even though I know it means going gray. My mother had gorgeous brunette hair, but she began going gray in her mid-20s. A friend in high school with beautiful dark hair started getting gray before we graduated. Gray hair is currently a thing (good), and I get it. Maybe because I’m now firmly in my 50s, I find myself drawn to women with gray hair and wishing I had it, too. I’ve always looked younger than I am–which, I know, has its advantages–but I kind of wish I looked more my age. I’d like to be more Frances McDormand than Michelle Pfeiffer, if that makes any sense. I’m ready to set down caring about my appearance.

      • Kate says:

        You hit the nail on the head. I feel like Christmas holds a certain childlike wonder and at some point that wonder is replaced with wistfulness and melancholy and longing for that magic/wonder/innocence. I don’t know when that switch really happens. Though I’m starting to see that I won’t have very many holidays left where I can live vicariously through the innocence of my kiddos.

        • Rita says:

          I loved making the holidays magical for my kids, but I really wish I’d done a little less of that. I think it made the loss of the wonder all the harder for them. Neither of them likes Christmas now. I hope it will change for them later. Maybe when they fall in love, or if they have children of their own. Though it’s never quite the same, is it?

    • Marian says:

      I have to chime in and say that I too, am just a bit jealous of Rita’s not grey!! I (Although I have to say I have mostly come to terms with my greying hair and am obstinately staying the course and refusing to give in to societal pressures, despite the fact that I seem to be the ONLY ONE of my IRL peers to do so.) Also: what is it about MILs and their stinging comments?! This is, unfortunately, something I’m quite familiar with, and it’s caused me to vow that when/if my time comes, I will be a tactful MIL!

      • Rita says:

        You’re both going to become those older ladies with fabulous heads of striking silver hair! While I will continue to slowly fade into mousedom. I was a true blonde until around the time I hit 30. For quite a while I kept that going through the wonders of chemicals, but a few years ago I gave it up. It was too much trouble and money, and I just didn’t have the time for 2-hour hair appointments. I’ve made my peace with non-descript hair color. Why is it that we always want the hair we don’t have? I’ve always envied those with curls, and my friends with curls always envied my straight hair.

        As for stinging MILs, you’ve both made me grateful for the ones I’ve had. Might just be that I’m oblivious, though. 🙂

        • Kate says:

          Our reasons for quitting hair processing are similar, Rita. My hair doesn’t take color well and grows quickly so I was having to spend two hours every four weeks to keep from looking obviously dyed (and the root color thing my hairdresser tried to get me to use so I could stretch out appointments made my head itch) SO…I decided to stop wasting my time and money. I’m actually not bothered by the gray but I’m sometimes bothered by comments. I hate people saying I’m brave because that doesn’t really feel like a compliment.

          As for mother-in-laws, I doubt I’ll be an easy one (as much I’d love to be) and I’m quite sure I’m not an easy daughter-in-law. Easy just isn’t a good word for me. But I hope to never be cruel. (I’m setting such a high bar! Ha!!)

          • Rita says:

            This made me laugh out loud–the last part. I could put that on my gravestone (if I were going to have one, which I’m not): “Easy just isn’t a good word for me.” I’m sure you’re never cruel. 🙂

    • Rita says:

      Oh, I wish you could sit in front of that fire and sip a glass of wine with me! That would make it even cozier still. Wishing you a Happy New Year, too. I know it’s going to be a big one for you.

  2. Marian says:

    This is a lovely post, Rita, the words as well as the photos.
    I too, at many moments in my life, have had that kind of prescient (*knowing*, foreboding) feeling about something or another. I’ve often wondered about that — is there actually “something” behind that knowing; is it selective memory (maybe I have these feelings *all the time* (I sometimes feel I do!) and it’s only the ones that come true that I mark as prescient?); or — worse case scenario —could it be self-fulfilling prophecy/self-sabotage? (I have no answers, but “haunting” seems to be a very apt term for all this…)
    I have very mixed emotions about the whole Christmas season. I too, seem to get very wistful — our tree, like yours, is a sentimental journey ( 😉 ), filled with crafts my kids did in elementary school, popsicle-sticked-photos of them (sometimes with me) from preschool, ornaments I made – for my kids’ birth, or just because, and always in sets of three. TBH though, Christmas is also when I’m at my crankiest — I find the stress of it all (even when I’ve pared the *all* to a minimum, even when I’m refusing to take part in the more commercial aspects of it) hard to take sometimes, and as sad as I will be when my older two are back at school, there will also be relief at having the house back to normal and life back to its steady-state.

    • Rita says:

      Well, the possibility I’ve considered most is self-fulfilling prophecy/self-sabotage. Or maybe it was just that the words spoke to something I knew about myself on some deep level. Something I was afraid of or didn’t like or didn’t understand. Or all of the above.

      I have not been able to find a consistent healthy stance toward Christmas. Last year, in the aftermath of the election and in the midst of adjusting to Grace leaving home, I had the best Christmas I’d had in years. So, while I’d like to say that how I experience it is connected to how I’m feeling or what’s going on in my life, I don’t know that that’s the case. I’ve come to a prickly acceptance that it is going to be a mixed thing, at best. (Well, that statement could apply to my view of life as a whole.) I hope that you have had one that is more sweet than bitter. Like you, I’ve pared it down quite a bit–but it still gets to be a bit much. Like you, I’m a creature of habit and routine. Even happy variations from those take a toll, don’t they?

  3. TD says:

    I just took down my tiny Charlie Brown tree. I have not had a live tree in the house since the the late 80’s when I was married. But this December as I was getting myself and my dog, Charlie, settled back home from a panic of emergency surgery on his ear, I had to make a quick run to the grocery to pick up coffee. I was out of stock of all food in the house, but I knew I had to have coffee!

    So, I don’t know what came over me.

    There it was—that Charlie Brown live tree, kitchen table size. I grabbed it! Someone asked me in the store walk way “How much is that tree?” And I replied, “I don’t know.”

    Holding the tree tightly in my arms, I added a scented candle, a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates and of course the coffee.

    With no children, no family or anyone who would visit, there is no reason to decorate. Yet, found myself whirling around this tiny tree, music in the background, decorating with those handmade, personally designed ornaments and memories in the air of which I was breathing; the oxygen I needed to survive. I felt alive photographing and singing to my dogs.

    This morning I took down that tree. Packed the 3 handmade stockings and decorations of sorts neatly into 3 small storage containers. Then, I placed the tree into my outdoor trash container.

    I thought, very loudly, “What was the point of that?!”

    Was it for that child within me? Was it for life? Was it for love?

    Then I sat outside on the patio and read your post, Rita. And so it is Christmas… you definitely captured that wistful/melancholy and wonderment of why do we do this “thing” called Christmas. Beautifully written and gracefully shared. All the photos and the words of yours, pour out so much love.

    It’s a necessity, that pause, we need to remember that at times there is still love and those who we have loved.

    Is it a re-set button?

    • Rita says:

      I wrote a reply to this, and WordPress ate it. Here’s a short version:

      I don’t know, really, what Christmas is or why we attach all that we do to it. It’s clearly about more than anything we say it is. I am glad, though, that you had those moments of love and joy and feeling alive, and that may be all the point that is necessary. To anything we do. I’m wishing you many such moments in the coming year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.