Every Christmas season I generally approach with equal portions joy, holiday spirit, stress, and disappointment. The first two explain themselves; the latter two are more related to the gift ritual and unfortunate embedding of an allegedly snowy holiday during a time of year where snow is relatively rare.
This year things mostly still smack of these same qualities, but things are changing ever so slightly. I’ve had something of a realization: Christmas will never be as good as it was when I was young, and my memories of Christmases past are all romanticized and/or misremembered. They were times encapsulated in new experiences, the high of getting presents, and the adult habit of looking at the past through a soft, golden filter.
Faces glowed with an unspeakable adoration. Voices carried more fully and were rich with the tang of laughter. Snow was bountiful and fell often. Every piece of my mom’s Christmas Village captured my imagination with the same fascination as would relics from Tut’s sarcophagus. Presents shone under the tree, reflecting the dazzle of strings of multicolored lights, testing every fragment of my patience. The tree lit up our living room like a burning pyre, radiating the northern lights onto the wallpaper and itself was peppered with intricate ornaments of all manner of variety, telling subtle stories of our family, past and present.
The plastic light-up angels, candy canes, candles, and Santa Claus all added tufts of soft light throughout the house and out in the yard. The front porch too had lights strong all along its course, illuminating best when covered in gentle snow. Listening to Elvis, Neil Diamond, and collections of holiday music always was a glorious ritual each year that meant we were closer to Winter Break, opening gifts, and seeing family.
Visits with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents all seemed to go better. Spirits were good, laughs were had, and things felt…special. The neighborhood in Oak Lawn was routinely resplendent with lights that made the Christmas Spirit in every onlooker ache wonderfully in their bones.
It was a perfect gap between the stress and anxiety that went with school. It was good. Not as perfect as I remember, and nothing like the movies at all, but special. Each person has their own version of glittering holiday childhoods, and I imagine holds them as dearly as anything packed away in the memory warehouse.
The last few years haven’t quite been as special. Divorce, death, and drama. Grown up stuff.
Faces are more timeworn and ragged with age and stress. Smiles are there, but a melancholic disquiet frames the quiet moments of some conversations.
There’s no more Winter Break, just more Winter Work. Things need to be scheduled, plans made, presents purchased, and packages wrapped.
The decorations and ceremony don’t spill into me like a hot cup of cocoa, but it’s more like lighting a tiny candle. It glows bright and warm enough to keep away the somber cold, and I’m content with that.
Memories are the putty that we sprinkle with a Christmas nostalgia that ages like wine. I’m going to pour myself a glass and keep watch on the grey sky before another December sunset, hoping a few snowflakes defy the forecast as Elvis and Bing remind my fingertips of my grandma’s living room carpet, my nose of dust burning off of a pile of freshly-emerged Christmas lights, and my eyes of squinting sharply from the pure white of fallen snow after a long day of elementary school.