Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas to All!

It is a quarter to three in the morning as I sit here and start on this blog.

My grandchildren are sleeping soundly as is my wife. Our old lady cat slumbers too, curled up into a contented ball of softly breathing feline.

I am sitting in my favorite chair with my computer on my lap. I've worked up some images, done a little work on my novel and now am sitting up with you in the wee hours of Christmas Eve day.

There's something very powerful about Christmas, isn't there? I hear the music I listened to as a child and I am taken back immediately to the smell of the Christmas tree and the odd scent it had when the hot bulbs had pressed against the needles for too long. I remember the most miraculous tree decoration: it was a keyhole shaped string of lights. These ornaments were lit from within and filled with a liquid and I very clearly remember watching a small bubble slowly rise to the top of the bulb and then work its way down again. There was such mystery and excitement, something breathlessly exotic about a real Christmas tree.

I am thinking about the fact I never really bought the whole Santa Claus thing. I always suspected my father ate the cookies we'd left out. My father, who grew up without a father of his own, loved Christmas more than any of us, I think.

At his insistance, usually on the most frigidly cold night of the year, the entire family would be loaded into a freezing frost encrusted car and we'd go out to a tree lot (sometimes a LOT of tree lots) to pick out our family tree.

My mother would start preparing Christmas dinner before any of us were up and the scent of cooking turkey conjures up Christmas morning memories more powerfully than anything.

Christmas mornings in our house were orderly affairs. We would have been appalled at the very notion of all of us tearing into presents all at once. They were opened one at a time, with the whole family watching. As the ripped paper rose to knee level, my internal countdown started toward the "big" present. There was always one for everyone.

My mother is gone now and my father is lonely without her. I have only the barest of relationships with my three younger brothers. We have all flown off in different directions and have lost touch with each other -- if indeed we were ever in touch.

Christmas has become a very long season of magic shows, late night road trips, setting and tearing out props and so many shows that they all blend together into one blurry memory. It is a season of missing time with my wife and sleepless nights like this one. In a single day I can be an elf, a New York gangster, a road manager, a producer and a tuxedoed magician.

Over this season, I have thought often about Christmas Eve because by Christmas Eve all of the work is done. (It's remarkable to me, by the way, that Christmas Eve never feels like I think it will. Having the work done produces more of a sigh than a triumphant pumping fist. It's not a bad feeling. Come to think of it, it's more an absence of feeling.)

But a few nights ago, I was driving by a Christmas tree lot and the scent of evergreen was in the air like fairy dust. I was listening to Bing Crosby singing White Christmas and for just a moment, I was five again, looking in wonder at a Christmas tree and the whispered promise it represented. In my mind I was wearing a bright red cowboy hat with a natty yellow whistle, my all-time favorite pajamas with brown horses and cowboys battling outlaws, smelling turkey and listening to my mother and father laughing together in the kitchen.

You can't go back, can you? And would we want to? It's been my experience that the way I choose to remember something isn't necessarily the way it was.

So I am here at a quarter after three now, and I am choosing to think about Christmas...the real Christmas...and the very best gift Anyone ever gave anyone. I am choosing to think about a squalling, crying pooping baby delivered by a teenager in a backwater town most people had never even heard of. And I am thinking about this in the truest context of wonder that the arrival of this child brought a light into a dark place -- and hope to a genuinely hopeless world. The reality of what was done on the first Christmas is so vibrant and powerful that I feel a lump form in my throat, and I have a precious and tender desire to get onto my knees and weep.

So Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas to YOU. May your heart be filled with joy and hope and true love. May your spirit swell to bursting with creativity. May your imagination be a warming fire compelling you to create!

Thank you for sharing this time with me.

Good night. I think I will go to sleep now.

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