Listening to: OneRepublic "I Lived"
Outside: Arc-sodium streetlights chill everything in orange
Here we are, folks. November. Month of bonfires and sparklers (if you live in England), gusty gales blowing the last leaves off shivering trees, and a shivering you. And apple pie, dollops of cranberry sauce, gold-skinned turkey waiting for your bite: Thanksgiving is close (if you live in the US).
And! The! Christmas! Countdown! Begins!
|Yeah, it's actually way less than that. Something like six. Oh, god.|
Now, before you all rush out in a Christmas Panic (your child can wait five more minutes before you tear out of the house to buy that last box of Lego Duplo), just read this. Just read.
When I was a little girl, I saw first-hand proof that Santa exists.
You read that right.
Let's go back to a time when Home Alone first came out on VHS. When The Simpsons were still quite new and - in our house - considered too mature for my wee beady eyes. When there was no such thing as the Internet in your typical suburban home. When kids (like me) got tangled up daily in the 13-foot spiral of the corded kitchen phone. When, for all intents and purposes, Santa no longer existed.
You know what I'm talking about: your friends at school started talking about it - gifts with the price tags still on them discovered in microwaves, kitchen drawers, under beds, in the backs of closets. You shuddered to listen - you tingled to hear it. As-yet-unwrapped Christmas sweaters, new dolls, that Transformer toy you asked for. All of this work was the work of your parents. Everything you believed was a lie.
Well, let me tell you. Let's go back to Christmas Eve 1990-something, when I'm a little girl just learning about attitude and back-sass, but still young enough to ask for (and luxuriate in) a hug from my mom for absolutely no reason. A girl lost in the world of Judy Blume and R. L. Stine books (see: future writer), enchanted by the multi-colored twinkle light garland wrapped around the stair railing. My every step downstairs, or return journey upstairs, was a voyage on a glittering polar sea. Bing Crosby croons and cracks on our record player, and I have a tummy full of turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. I have sat for what seems like years in front of our Christmas tree, just being still, just being. (I was a weird kid.)
With the mystery of Christmas pretty much gone for me, I tried to soak it up in any way I could. Everything screamed out to me to be seen, listened to, felt: The menthol scent of Halls throat lozenges, the way the Christmas tree glittered like pure magic in the dining room, the mountain of presents beneath it. The way my mom and dad smiled more this time of year. The bounce of bows beneath my hand. Everything had a gloss to it, a shine, even ourselves. Even my relatives who showed up who I didn't really know.
But I still feel a kind of grief, a kind of loss, for the man who, after all, is a figment of my imagination. I will not leave a glass of milk out for Santa tonight.
But my mom appeals to me, her back turned at the kitchen sink. "But it's tradition. What would Santa do if he got here and didn't have his milk?"
So I do. Begrudgingly.
Under my covers, my eyes still dazzled with the lights that float up the stairs, I sleep heavy and long.
Next morning, my dad wakes up my sister and me. "Hey girls, you better come look at this," comes his voice from the staircase. Down we fly, and in our pjs and winter boots, we stand on the frosted front porch, gaze travelling from his pointed finger up to the garage roof.
There, in the foot of snow, high up near the apex, are sleigh runner tracks.
"It's where Santa landed," Mom says.
The snow is so morning-bright against the charcoal-black of the roof shingles. Plain as day, there it is. Proof.
My sister and I are stunned silent, unable to move. Unable to think.
I imagine the clinking of bridles, the hard clack of antlers connecting, the bobbing of horse-like heads, an impatient hoof striking the roof. The heat, the straw scent, the sweet breath. The echo of sleighbells against the night. I know they had been there. Here.
The weight was gone: the grief was gone. The spirit of Christmas yet lived.
I found out years later that it was only an accidental scrape with a new gutter cleaner pole attachment my dad was learning how to use. He'd made a slash across the roof and happened to note the horizontal line-ness of it. He made another line parallel to it. Little did he know, by that happy accident, he made that little girl the person she is today: a girl who, despite everything, still believes.
(That's the funny thing about fact and fiction: my brain knows it was a gutter cleaning attachment. My heart knows it was Santa, because that's the truth I felt as a child. Maybe a child's truth is the finest truth a person can ever know. I know both facts. I know which one my heart prefers.)
|This and more Christmasy images from here.|
Now it's time for those Lego Duplo bricks. Just be sure to drink that milk - or whatever it is you can persuade your child to pour - and try a gutter attachment in next month's snow. And, like the god or goddess you are, never, ever take the credit.
Patience Brewster, a very talented designer of Christmas ornaments and gifts, helped inspire this holiday memory post! I look forward to unboxing my cute little Christmas Mouse ornament (one of my favorites!) in a couple weeks, after the Thanksgiving dinner dishes are washed and put away. There's nothing quite like listening to some Celtic harp Christmas music, sipping a glass of red wine and hanging memories on the tree, one by one.
Happy Thursday, everybody!