I’m spending this early December thinking of the role I want the Christmas season to play in my adult life. Cocktail parties with gold-speckled champagne flutes? My home full of lights and pine needles, friends, card games, Christmas music and mulled wine? Holding hands by the big Christmas tree downtown on the way to the theater? Or maybe an understated — and decidedly pagan — Yule observance spent by the hearth: soft, warm, quiet.
Christmas is rarely easy, isn’t that so? It isn’t for me, anyway. Expectations. (I guess, much like the ones I’m setting up right now.) Hallmark movies and glittering childhood memories that were never made to be lived up to. Our parents really set us up for a lifetime of disappointment with that Santa Claus thing, didn’t they? No December 25th could ever come close to the magic of a believer’s Christmas Eve, that transcendent moment before you bound down the stairs on Christmas morning. Every Christmas since feels like pressing on a faded bruise, landing on old injury that never healed right. The site of a child’s first betrayal, first broken faith. (If they’re lucky, anyway.)
And so I sit by the tree and nurse every heartbreak of mine that never quite healed with a glass of eggnog and bourbon. I do my best to smile through the stories and the familiar old movies and the platters of cheese. I watch the children and try to feel their joy. I tell myself I’m happy, and I suppose I am, but I am also so very sad.
What I do know is that I want music. Laughter. Warmth. The warmth of bodies, the warmth of a house to be welcomed home to, warmth of the food we share with the people we love. The people who love us in our party dresses the night before and the people who love us the next morning, undereye circles and coffee by the window. Bright white sky, early winter light.
This year, I don’t want to feel the ache of Christmases gone, but maybe that’s part of the deal. Living with the hole that joy leaves in your heart once it’s gone. Gently place a sprig of holly there, say a quiet thanks.