This column for the Nevada Appeal was one of my first. It was published on December 1, 1999, before they started archiving the paper online. Some of the people mentioned here have passed away, the rest have merely grown older. I’m closing in on 70 myself. Our family’s video tapes are now on DVD and it’s not December 1st. But still, my little wish for you is the same.
Well, it’s started—that temporary insanity known as “the holidays.” And like most people, I go a little nuts, a little overboard. I make lists in my planner, on my refrigerator, and while lying awake at three in the morning. Trying to get all the details right for a perfect holiday sure can take the edge off all the fun.
I keep at it because of the misguided notion that by some act of organization or will I can create a perfect Christmas. Let me tell you, those perfect Christmases don’t exist anywhere but at Martha Stewart’s house and in our dreams.
Come to think of it, even at the first Christmas—when God himself was in charge of arrangements—folks had to sleep in a barn. And the gifts didn’t arrive until January 6.
And those memorable Christmases of our childhood? I’m not convinced that they were perfect either. I think they exist as a composite, like “Christmas’s Greatest Hits” in our memory. A great meal. Snow on Christmas morning. The biggest tree. The best surprise. Everyone together. Laughing ‘til your face hurts. All those things didn’t happen in one year, and yet we can be easily overwhelmed by our efforts to recreate the fantasy.
So this year I’m giving myself a gift that I’ll share with you.
I’m making time for a few little celebrations, a few rituals that speak to the magic of a Christmas presence and rekindle my spirit. In addition to the shopping and cooking and decorating, I’ve made myself a special to-do list.
Here are 10 things I can do to ensure the last Christmas of the century is a good one.
1. Load the CD changer with an eclectic mix of my favorite Christmas music: Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Mannheim Steamroller, John Denver, Eartha Kitt, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Muppets. Turn up the volume. Repeat.
2. Drink eggnog. After all, it is loaded with calcium.
3. Pull out the familiar–but-tacky felt and Velcro Advent calendar. The Santa made from a Pringles can. The lace-and-ribbon-bedecked canning lid encircling the photograph of a little girl who used to live here. Each of these small treasures has a story attached and this yearly ritual of unpacking allows for a retelling and a reminder of how precious each moment is.
4. Look through photo albums and watch old home movies. My husband’s family watches the silent 8mm home movies form the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Even though they’ve been converted to video-tape now, there is still no sound. We have to add it ourselves, like Mystery Science Theater. The unwritten script and oft-repeated jokes still cause tears of laughter to run down our faces as we watch five children with goofy hair and flannel pajamas open year after year of presents. Some of those kids are grandparents now.
5. Call my parents and my brother several times, not just on Christmas Day. If we can’t be together, at least we can keep in touch.
6. Play cards or Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit and make at least one batch of cookies or peanut brittle or chicken tacos with everyone in the kitchen. And laugh.
7. Share what I have with others.
8. Watch two movies—“White Christmas” and “Meet Me in St. Louis”—with a bowl of popcorn and a box of Kleenex.
9. Go to church on Christmas Eve. Sing the songs, light the candles, remember a birthday.
10. Read Christmas stories to a child or to myself. My favorites are The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, A Wish for Wings that Work by Berkeley Breathed, The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston, and Santa’s Book of Names by David McPhail. These are good for all ages. Berkeley Breathed’s Red Ranger Came Calling and Patricia Polacco’s Welcome Comfort are perfect for the slightly older, more skeptical set who may have begun to disbelieve. “Red Ranger” comes complete with photographic evidence of a “guaranteed true” Christmas miracle.
As a child, the boundaries between my imagination and reality were always a bit blurry. I’m sure I heard sleigh bells on the roof even when my age went in to double digits. I’m nearly 50 now and I still believe.
I believe in the power of faith. I believe in the capacity of the human heart. I believe in a Christmas presence.
I believe I’ll hit the repeat button the CD changer and pour that cup of eggnog.
At least I can check two things off my list today. Just eight to go and it’s only December 1. I’ve got plenty of time.