We’ve rounded Thanksgiving and blown through Hanukkah. All those polite Victorians in top hats or hooped skirts looking for Mr. Dickens have come and gone. Now we’re sprinting toward Christmas, a mad dash into blown waistlines and budgets, consumerism run amok, all in the name of a poor baby born long ago on a silent night in Bethlehem. Sigh.
But be that as it may, it is, as the song says, beginning to look a lot like Christmas at our house. On the day after Thanksgiving, four of the grandkids came for a visit and, saw in hand, we headed out into Mr. Simmons’ field to bag our Christmas tree. We found a perfect specimen, and by the end of the day and minutes before Santa’s arrival on a firetruck, the tree was up in the front yard, decorated with oyster shells, and topped by a twinkling star that bears a striking resemblance to a Coronavirus. Merry Pandemic Christmas!
But it didn’t stop there. My wife has a keen eye for arranging and decorating, and Christmas is just what she needs to keep her spirits up in the thin gruel of winter. Boxes relegated to the attic for eleven months of the year come down for their month in the spotlight. There’s the bagpiping nutcracker Santa which dominates the dining room. Candles and carolers and a tabletop tree for the living room. Festive lights for the windows, a wreath and a creche and a repurposed pair of old Wellies filled with greens for the front porch. A swag for the gate and pine rope along the fence. Stockings to be hung; bows to be tied, bells to be rung. And should my Christmas magician see something slightly awry, she’ll tweak her artistry until she gets it just the way she wants it, at least for the next few minutes. Her art is always a work in progress, but I will say that when it all comes together, it’s perfect.
And while all this is going on, the season’s pace doesn’t just accelerate, it explodes. There are candles to light, gifts to wrap, fires to build, flowers to arrange, dinner parties with friends that go on much too late into the night. The house smells heavenly—a fragrant blend of beef stew simmering on the stove, roses gracing the table, and Christmas candles all aglow. There’s music and singing: joyful carols that tell tall tales of angels, shepherds, and wisemen, or soft lullabies about mangers, a certain little town, and a silent night. At some point, if we’re lucky, we’ll sit still for an evening and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas, or sing “White Christmas” with Bing and the gang, or watch “A Christmas Story” and pray Ralph doesn’t shoot his eye out this year.
If this all sounds too much like a Norman Rockwell drawing, we know it isn’t. Sadness and loneliness and regret are as much a part of Christmas as joy and anticipation and merriment; the bitter always helps to define the sweet. Not all families are able to celebrate Christmas together; we gratefully think of soldiers deployed overseas; of folks in hospitals and the caregivers who tend them; of first responders on duty; of loved ones absent, far away, or gone forever. They are part of the meaning of Christmas, too.
So, while there’s still time, I want to wish you all the joys of the season. I sincerely hope there are no dregs in your cup of good cheer. May your days be merry and bright and whatever you do, don’t shoot your eye out!
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown, MD. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.