I remember a crisp Christmas Eve, many, many years ago. Standing in the driveway of our home on Longport Drive, gazing up at countless stars and wondering how exactly I could have missed them all my 8 short years. Well the scientific reason was easy, myopia. I had inherited my father's atrocious nearsightedness. As with many things when you are young, you don't miss what you don't know- I just assumed stars were specks in the black vastness that I couldn't see. After being doomed to wear the "smart" label oculars, I gradually became grateful to see all that I had been missing and no longer minded the less than "smart" accessories adorning my face. Stars were magical. The night was magical. As a little red light zoomed across the sky- I ran up to bed and jumped under the covers. Christmas Eve was always spent at Grandma Connolly's. Filled with cousins and food and lots of loud discussions by adults. There were presents, lots of presents- which always amazed me. Despite our genetic similarities, we all wanted such different things at Christmas. I remember sitting in midnight mass, feeling the warmth of those around me as well as the season. I felt so sleepy, it was a battle to keep my eyes open. Yet afterwards, there were always presents and that kept us going. We hardly had time to play as we would have to drive home and get ready for Santa to arrive. Although being utterly convinced I would never be able to sleep with all the anticipation- I rarely could stay awake for the car ride home.
What I remember most about Christmas morning was the feeling. The magical feeling of Christmas. Looking back, I would have to say I was in love with Christmas. The only other time I have ever felt such an immense physical adoration, was after I fell in love with a certain young man. The two are quite similar if I actually stop to think about it. I loved everything about Christmas, the smells, the sounds, the decorations, the tastes- how everyone seemed to be happy. I remember the year after my aunt died, feeling loss for the first time at Christmas. A piece of the magic had gone. It didn't help that my brother and most my friends had stopped believing in Santa. It seemed absurd to just stop believing. I was old enough to know better, but I chose not to. As most 10-11 year olds do. They threw the logistics at me. They threw proof. I was never one to hunt for presents. My brother Bob did. That's how he said he knew. One year he found presents that were later from Santa. We had just moved into a new house and our parents seemed to be working overtime to make ends meet. There was lots of time to search. I didn't. I liked the surprise of opening a present. It was far to much work to pretend to be surprised. So I let him search and I sat playing on the organ that sat in our front room. Whenever my mom played, her fingers floated over the keys and the result was magical. Songs like Moonriver would fill the room. I decided to teach myself to play. Since I didn't know how to read music, I attached letters A-F to the keys and went from there. Mostly I fiddled around trying to make songs sound like something familiar. I managed to squeak out a tattered version of Silent Night. I was fairly impressed with myself. I sat and looked out the window at the falling snow. Icicles dripped from the gutters. I could hear the familiar slushy whoosh of cars going by. I felt very lonely. I didn't want for the magic of Christmas to be ruined. So I composed a song. It wasn't as much a song, as a series of notes smooshed together that described my feelings. The lilting ups and downs of childhood on the verge of adolescence. A time when magic tricks become slights of hand and explanations debunk mysteries. I learned there was a plausible explanation for lots of things. I loved my song. I often wondered if it was truly mine, or if it was something I had heard one time and my subconscious recreated. It didn't matter- I wasn't sharing it with the world. It was mine. I wrote down the letters, in case I might forget by the next day. But I didn't. It helped with the feelings of loss and helped replace some of the magic of the season. It taught me that I was in control of what I believed, and what I chose to hear.
As I got older, I learned that bringing the magic to others was as much fun as getting gifts from Santa. I loved shopping for Phil's brothers who were still little and believed without question. I also learned that loved ones' lost were always missed more at Christmas. I watched as the magic faded for his brothers. I immersed myself in a new magic- the magic of being in love. I became a logical, practical, scientific sort. I let some of the Christmas magic go. And then I had kids. Watching Christmas through their eyes brought back magic. It is so easy to believe in fairies, elves and a man who rewards good behavior with presents. Then last year it started. The questions, at first veiled then outright. "Mom, have you ever seen Santa?" Sure, he's at the mall. " No the real Santa." No, I was never good at staying up to see him. "Then how do you KNOW?"
Do you KNOW I love you? "Mom! yes. But how do you know there's a Santa?" Show me how you know I love you. He reaches over and gives me a hug. That's a hug, show me love. "I can't." But you know it exists? "yeah, I feel it." A Hug is to Love what Presents are to Santa. I could tell he was satisfied, but his curiosity was not. " My friends say parents leave presents under the tree. " Of course we do. "No, that you leave Santa's presents" Oh honey, you know I get much too tired to stay up after you. Where would we get all the money for those presents? "Ohhhhh". And it comes down to money. Doesn't it always? Except with love.
I have had a very difficult time with Christmas in Hawaii. It's hot. It's sunny. Santa can't even wear his full garb without fear of dehydrating into an elf. I don't even like snow. I think I had maybe 2 Christmases in Denver that were snowy- it was unreliable. But you could always go up into the mountains and smell the evergreens and the sting of the chill. But as a child, there was snow on Christmas, usually. The blow up Santa's ride Harleys here and lounge under palm trees on hammocks. The other problem is that it's an island. There are limited shipments of goods- if you don't grab in October there will undoubtably be stress. Shipping is either cost or date prohibitive and people are outright rude. I think that goes for just about everywhere, but it feels more pronounced. My husband complained about 5 hours in the car from Florida to Atlanta. In that time he probably passed 25 walmarts. In that time I could have visited all 3 walmarts on the island and driven around the actual island. twice. Finding the time to do Christmas shopping without the kids has been challenging. I am forever grateful for wonderful neighbors. But after a particularly souring experience at Walmart, I came home and sat in front of my computer. I was just going to order what I needed and be done with it. But it wouldn't ship here. Nope couldn't get it delivered to the store either. Oh wait you can ship it- for $59- but the darn thing only costs $20? Now a days I just feel like a grinch. I have to tell my son that of the 4 things on his list- Santa simply will not bring him 3. It's so much easier when they are 4 and want 25 things and if they get 1 of them, they will promptly forget about the other 24. 11 year olds keep track. And take notes. And will use it against you later. No you don't need a go cart, or a mini motorcycle or a puppy. There are 2 televisions within 25 feet of your room- you do not need a tv in there- and where would we put it? "I'll clear a space" Kinda like you clear a space for your body every night after I have asked you 3 billion times to clean it? I feel that familiar loss creeping in. I see it draining from him and I have neither the magic or funds to prevent it. I sit at the computer and the tears threaten. Bella is fast asleep on the couch, recovering from yet another bout with some virus.
A sound tinkles in the window. Someone is playing the piano. My house is never quiet enough to appreciate such things. I take a moment to appreciate it. I decide that I need an attitude check as do my children. Christmas isn't about the next best thing, or the toys. Sure it is a bit when you are a kid. But what do I remember about Christmas? I remember Christmas Eve with family and the feeling of Christmas morning. And then I hear it. MY song. Tinkling in from the window. No more, no less than the few notes I remember. It's not part of some concerto or a major piece- it's merely my song. Part of me wonders if I reproduced a well known piece. I guess I could knock on my neighbors door and find the practical explanation, or I could appreciate this gift. A gift of an auditory memory to a time where I chose to believe . I choose to believe.
Bella wakes up and we go for a walk. Every year we buy presents for the angel tree, this year we got them for the tree at school. You know it's a rough year when most requests are basic necessities, diapers- wipes- clocks, blankets. Kiera looks at me while we were shopping- why does she want diapers for Christmas? Well sweetie- maybe she doesn't have enough money to get diapers and she wants her baby to be comfortable for Christmas. I do believe I see a twinkle in her ice blue eyes. She gets it. The box of diapers was too big to carry so Bella and I make a special trip. As we walk into the office a motorcycle roars up. We drop off our presents and a man pulls open the door as we leave. I say thank you, but fail to take notice. He is walking behind us. Bella drops her slippah and I stop to replace it. I look up and see the man getting back on the motorcycle. He has a nice round belly and a long white beard. I whisper to Bella "look!" She looks and her eyes get big. "Is that....Santa?" she asks and a grin comes to her little face, she knows it is- who else could it be? I nod. "Why isn't he wearing a suit?" It's a little hot don't you think? "Yeah" And we watch him roar out of sight. And with a song and a choice, the magic was restored.