I offer my apologies in advance to those of you who may not celebrate Christmas. I’m afraid I’m a hopeless Christmas romantic and I’m about to indulge in some happily sentimental recollections and musings.
But first, let me say what I’m not sentimental about. It is not about over the top Christmas displays or starting Christmas on November first. It is not about spending lots of money on gifts. It is not about elevator type Christmas music. It’s not about children’s shows and movies created expressly to have kiddos clamoring to buy all kinds of branded stuff. It’s not even about gifts given to me, although I have no objection to them.
No, what I love is the feeling and wonder Christmas evokes. I was lucky enough to have a mom who wove a long lasting holiday tapestry of good smells, traditions, images, stories, and wonder in my mind and it has stuck with me. It isn’t about the religious aspects of it although music, stars, wise men, incense, and the rest are inextricably intertwined in my memories. It’s a feeling that’s a mix of memories, imagination, and associations.
It’s the rich spicy smell of Williamsburg bayberry candles Mom burned almost twenty-four seven from Thanksgiving through the new year from the time I was twelve until a few years ago when they stopped making them. They had a unique fragrance I have never found in any other bayberry candle. We were heartbroken when we learned they weren’t making them any more. How would Christmas be Christmas without the faint traces of bayberry smell that clung to our hair and clothes and seemed to permeate the furniture and draperies?
It’s the vivid imagery like this contained in one of my favorite Christmas books, Lanterns Across the Snow by Susan Hill, about a little English girl in the early 1900s waiting impatiently for Christmas to come:
“It had been snowing all day. It lay, softly piled over the earth and outlining the curve of each grey gravestone … the ledge outside her window was fat with snow. The church roof, the church porch, the bushes, and the yew trees that stood, like statues in skirts, were soft with snow, and the sky was grey as a wolf’s coat, and still it went on snowing.”
Whew, in my imagination I’m there, watching the feathery flakes drift to the ground. I wish I was there, oh to have a snowy holiday season, I long for it!
And then, it’s the marvelment (yes, a word I made up, give me a break) of a young boy’s Christmas found in Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales:
“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six … ”
Or, A Child’s Christmas … on the subject of presents:
“There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a substance like silky gum that could be tug-o’-warred down to the galoshes; blinding tam-o’-shanters like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes; from aunts who always wore wool next to the skin there were mustached and rasping vests that made you wonder why the aunts had any skin left at all; and once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us. And pictureless books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles’ pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why.”
How could you not get pulled in to that and imagine the blizzard of paper and presents of a Christmas celebrated with cousins, aunts, and uncles?
It’s the way I get choked up when Natalie Woods in Miracle on 34th Street starts yelling “Stop the car, Uncle Fred, stop the car!” And then, runs as fast as her little legs will carry her across the yard and into the house for sale that Kris Kringle has managed to produce. And breathlessly tries to explain to her panting and bewildered mother and stepfather-to-be, how she showed this picture of her dream house to Kris, and how she had been disappointed and hadn’t believed because he hadn’t mentioned it when they had Christmas morning present exchange, and, and … even then Maureen O’Hara doesn’t really believe. Until they turn around and see Kris’s walking stick in the corner. What gets me is what she told Natalie earlier in the movie, “sometimes faith means believing even when common sense tells you not to,” … BWANHHANHANH … can someone pass me the tissues please?
It’s the smell of onion and celery cooking for the stuffing, and the turkey roasting while A Charlie Brown Christmas plays in the background. It’s sitting at night before I go to bed with a cup of tea in the dark and gazing at the pretty lights in the Christmas tree. It’s calling a friend of mine who absolutely hates Sleigh Ride by Johnny Mathis and when he picks up, singing along with Johnny at the top of my lungs. It’s burning my own balsam and cedar candle by my bed as I read some of my favorite Christmas stories.
It’s the moment when Alistair Sim, in the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, wakes up from his Christmas Eve spirit visitations to find that his heart, like the Grinch’s, had grown three sizes that night. Laughing hysterically so hard that he can barely catch his breath, he manages to call out “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school boy, I am as giddy as a drunken man. A Merry Christmas to everybody!” Ah, to be reminded that even the most hardened heart can be redeemed … well, pass the tissues again please.
And I can’t forget my new favorite Christmas movie, Love Actually. I love this movie because, although sappy in some ways, it also has some poignantly painful vignettes in it that give more than a passing nod to the realities of human behavior. But, London decorated in its Christmas best, Hugh Grant as an incredibly likeable Prime Minister who falls for a ‘chubby’ girl instead of some stick thin super model, Emma Thompson (I do so want Emma to be my friend, I do, I do!) as a slightly frumpy but sharp and sensitive middle aged woman, Liam Neeson as the best step-Dad ever, and Bill Nighy as the most likeable curmudgeonly washed-up rocker you can imagine … well all that, and Colin Firth delivering the most humorous and touching marriage proposal you’ll ever hear. What more is there to make a great Christmas movie I ask you?
And, don’t even get me started on A Christmas Story, Gift of The Magi, or It’s a Wonderful Life.
Those are the things that make up Christmas in my mind, that make me feel a certain delicious way. Now, I don’t want it all year long, like I’ve heard some folks wistfully wish for. I want it to stay special and that means having it just once a year for three or four weeks.
Snow dreams. Rich redolent smells of food, tree, and candles. Reconnecting with family and friends at a festive time of year. Slowing down to bake homemade goodies.
Now, that’s what I love about Christmas.