18 December 2011

Unexpected Christmas Gift

Something odd happened a minute ago. I was bent over (in a position no one with a degenerative lower back condition should actually assume, but that's beside the point) adjusting the screws of my cast-iron Christmas tree stand before attempting that moment of truth: standing the sucker up both to see if it fits without lifting ceiling tiles and seeing if it will capsize under my own inability to measure straight (my floor is crooked. There's a lot of geometry involved in a crooked little woman standing a crooked little tree up in a crooked little house. But again I digress.)

I debated getting a tree this year because of the kitten. The kitten is a climber, and a leaper offer of things. Given his history with my houseplants, a tree in the house seemed like asking for trouble. But then I realised that this is my first Christmas in the new home, my first Christmas in my newly restored life. Since, you know, I've been in storage for the past five years at my parents' house, hibernating until the wings were fully mature. And I missed all of my Christmas decorations, since only a very few got unpacked, the essential ones that it couldn't be Christmas without. And that dammit I wanted a tree, even if it meant taping the cat to the bathtub for the next couple of weeks. Which, you know, might not be a bad idea anyway.

This is the first time I've put up a tree by myself in....a long time. Before this blog started. Before I met my husband. Before I had to worry about things like could I lift this box or reach to put this ornament on this branch without paying for it later in physical therapy. And while turning the brass screws on the stand, I realised that I'm less lonely doing this alone than I have been the past five years at my parents' house, helping them in the most precious of our Christmas traditions. Somehow, returning to those same rituals year after year by circumstance rather than choice made me curiously, painfully homesick, despite the fact that I still found joy in them, despite the fact that for so many years that had been home, especially at Christmas.

I realised that it's good to be home. Here. By myself. In my own little town of Bethlehem. It's good to be me. At long last, again. At the moment it would also be handy if the me that I am again were just a smidge taller, so I could reach the top without standing on a chair. But I'll take the me that is.

14 December 2011

In Defence of Christmas

An online friend recently posted in frustration about being "totally over" Christmas. I've been over the commercialism and the consumerism for years. Like, most of my teen and adult life. I'm fortunate enough to be surrounded by a family of like-minded people. We're quiet celebrators. Yes, we're Catholic, so there's the religion thing (even for me, the professed I-don't-know-what-I-am-but-it's-somewhere-between-Catholic-and-pagan-and-Buddhist) but more than that, what does it for me is peace, and joy, and hope.

Yes, peace. Even in the midst of the bullshit and the craziness and the parking and the crowds (um, I live in The Christmas City, USA. This town is All About Christmas, All The Time. For reals.) and the fact that I'm always in finals until the middle of December, PEACE. Peace because in the midst of all that, I'm still able to connect with something slow and dark and quiet that comes out of the midwinter darkness of the longest night. Peace because I can get back in touch with myself, and the people I love, and what matters to us, which is each other.

Joy, because nothing makes me happier than the quiet goofy happiness that Christmas eve brings to my mom, even as she approaches...um, a number I won't mention on the internet. Or having my small family mostly all together every year with our same quiet rituals of midnight mass followed by a 2 am bottle of wine, sleeping in, homemade buttermilk waffles and my sister's sweet orange rolls that she makes for Christmas every year because she made them once years ago and I loved them so much that she now makes them annually. The wise men who start out at the far end of the living room with Eddie the Troll Doll in the Santa suit and tramp a little closer each day to the nativity under the Christmas tree. (Yes, my mom moves them. And sometimes talks out the action. She's a children's librarian, she's allowed to be kooky like that.) The phrase "regifted underwear" that can bring us to tears of mirth. The phone call to my other sister at the monastery in Chicago to ask her what time midnight mass is. Midafternoon naps. Reading our new books by Christmas tree light. Vegetable ornaments. Thomas Tallis's Spem in Alium. Joy.

Hope, because nothing makes me happier than the turn of the solstice that signals that light is coming. Slowly, but it's returning. Life goes on. My divorce was finalized on this date a few years ago, and I thought for sure I was going to flat out die from loss, darkness, and loneliness. But the light returned, as it does every season.