The Christmas season is upon us and I’m once again in high gear. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. Our family has slowed down on the gift giving, which enables us to focus more on the warm and fuzzy stuff. Since Jagdish and I expect to be downsizing to a condo next spring, I’m taking advantage of the ample space that our house offers to put out even more holiday décor than usual.
I have an entire closet filled with almost nothing but house and tree decorations. The first things I put out are usually the snowmen and Santa-like items. This year, I found myself talking to them as I placed them throughout the rooms. It dawned on me that it’s like I become six again at Christmastime.
Hello, Italian snowman (round belly, red and green hat) with your Chanukah snowmen friends (blue clothes). Hey, Humpty Dumpty Santa and Mrs. Humpty Claus. How was your summer? Snowman family on the piano keyboard, will your kids be applying to colleges this year? I don’t care that they never answer me. I just move on to the next grouping. There’s the Laurel and Hardy snowmen—one super thin, the other round as a pumpkin. Or maybe they’re Jagdish and Elaine.
It’s Christmastime and I’m 26 again. I’m unwrapping an ornament my father gave me for one of my first trees living on my own. It’s a brass mask from Venezuela, still in the tissue and plastic bag it came in. My father asked a co-worker going on a business trip there to bring back something appropriate for a tree ornament for him to give me. He was hugely disappointed in the mask. I think he was expecting a star. I always loved it, especially because of the story behind it. His name, spelled wrong by his co-worker, is still penciled onto the tissue.
It’s Christmastime and in my mind I’m 39. I’m unpacking the silver snowflakes and brass stars from the Metropolitan Museum gift shop. My parents gave me one each year, but my father picked them out. I’m missing the one for 1984. He died that year. My mother wanted to get the ornament for me, but it was just too painful for her to deal with. It was painful for me, too. I started buying them on my own the next year. In my collection over a 31-year period, the only year missing is the one my father died.
I’m baking Sunset Cookies from my mother’s recipe. I’m 50 and it’s my first Christmas without her. These cookies remind me of her. If I made struffoli, I’d feel even closer. She made the dough and rolled it into finger-width strands. I cut them into dice-sized pieces. After they were fried, she drizzled them with honey and I formed the ring around an upside down glass. When we removed the glass, we decorated with colored sprinkles and her “Italian” plastic holly. I don’t have a deep fryer, so I make her cookies.
I’ve reached my 68th Christmas. I’m cranky. I have very little patience. I say things that aren’t appropriate to repeat here to people who don’t put on their left turn signal and just stop dead in the fast lane, waiting to make the turn. Also to those who drive behind me as I’m backing out of a parking spot in the supermarket lot, even though I’m already more than half way out. I back up ever so slowly, because I know some idiot is going to be in a hurry to get the cantaloupe that’s on sale yet again this week.
I silently give thanks that our family has cut way back on the exchange of presents and that almost everyone is on a diet. But it’s still Christmas, so I put up three trees. That includes the little one that is now Luke’s, but is full of ornaments bought for Tulip and Daisy and Lily and Pansy. Bittersweet memories.
We’ve been in our house on Oriole Avenue for 22 Christmases. Each of the last three years, I’ve considered the possibility that it could be our final Christmas here. It makes me sad, but I remind myself that Christmas is not a physical place. It’s a place in one’s mind and in one’s heart. No matter where we relocate, I’ll be able to unpack Christmas from my ornament boxes and bake it from my recipe file. If I can just remember where I put the patience I had when I was younger, it will be as perfect as when I was six.