I believe in magic; I’ve said it before. I believe that magic presents itself to us in ways that we don’t always recognize or appreciate, but it’s magic just the same. I believe in goodness. I believe it outweighs bad, when all the numbers are added up and all the final words are in. Though it often appears the other way around, I believe that good prevails. I believe in Christmas. I believe in Christmas as more than the poofed-up, materialistic, shopper’s-drug-of-choice, commercialized, free-for-all, that so many people call it. I believe. And this year, it all came together in a perfect storm of Christmas perfection.
If you missed all the fun last week, lucky you. I was in the hospital; things were quite scary, and Christmas was looking pretty iffy… at best. Let’s face it, I am Christmas in my house. My husband and my kids are Jewish; they love Christmas, but it’s Mom that pulls it off each year. I live for the ritual dinners, the boxes and bows, the music, the tree, the lights, the swirl of family and friends… the whole shebang! I love Christmas. They love spinning in the vortex I create. And so, when I was still in the hospital days before Christmas: a few key presents still not purchased; no dinner planned or groceries bought; gifts unwrapped; kids flying home; the tree not purchased, let alone lit and decorated… it was looking a bit bleak. Hell, it was looking hopeless.
And then the miracles began. They started with a low buzz: some well wishes and hopes for me to feel better: comments on Facebook, emails to encourage me, offers to help. It started as a trickle and then it was a giant tsunami of support and care. The comments multiplied and buoyed me. For days, I was told not to speak… For anyone who knows me, not prone to pregnant pauses and long silences, this was in and of itself, a Christmas Miracle for some! My boys grinned and smirked, that I could not talk. My friends, admonished me: “Shhh,” with wicked merriment in their eyes. Cookies appeared on our doorstep; meals were dropped off; friends jumped in and offered to help my husband, my youngest son and our exchange student, as they figured out how to keep things working without me. My older son, Middle Man, arrived home and jumped right in. Accustomed to having me cook his favorite dinner upon coming home, instead he took the boys grocery shopping on December 23rd… the craziest day I can imagine… and the three boys bought Christmas dinner supplies, food for the house, and things we were running low on. They dealt with a butcher who couldn’t conceive of three young guys buying that much Prime Rib. “Were they sure they knew what cut they wanted?” They negotiated their way around Trader Joes and the larger supermarket, to find the specific things I prefer to have and use. They fed themselves and (mostly) cleaned up. They figured out what I would need when I was home, and made sure that was here too. They divided, and conquered.
My youngest, Little Man, and our exchange student, Germany, went to the Christmas Tree lot and picked out a tree. Most years we go to a tree farm we all love, hike out in the cold, and select and cut our own tree; and then have pizza nearby. This year, as I still lay in the hospital, the boys went out on their own to a local tree lot; chose a nice tree; got it loaded on the car, and brought it home, and then they put the lights on for me. I am the only one who does the lights on our tree, but, this year, my 17-year-old son made my homecoming perfect, with a gorgeous tree all lit up! We always get an 8-10′ tree, and so when my husband warned me: “It’s a bit of a Charlie Brown tree,” I prepared myself for the let down, and practiced gracious ways of saying thank you. Instead, that lovely little tree is one of the prettiest we’ve ever had! The fact that my boys went out and did that for me, means the world, and made my homecoming fantastic! It’s a Christmas miracle, I told them, and meant it.
Each year, since my two oldest kids left for college, decorating the tree has become a balancing act, and honestly, I haven’t always found it that easy. I love having the tree up and decorated for a while. I don’t like rushing it, or having it be an afterthought. I love having the smell of pine in my house, the lights on each night, and the decorations that I’ve been collecting for more than 30 years, on display to enjoy. After a lifetime of doing it together, a couple of weeks before Christmas, choices had to be made when our daughter, Principessa, left for college, five years ago. As much as I wanted the tree up and ready, I couldn’t decorate it without her there– just couldn’t do it. So, we waited until she got home for winter break that first year. It felt strange leaving the tree without ornaments for a while, but then that became our new tradition. We waited. Two years later Middle Man, left for college, and we waited for him as well. Then, Principessa moved to Israel, and we had our first Christmas without her. My heart felt heavy that year, but it’s all part of the ever-changing fabric of raising kids. Our traditions shift and change, and while I remember the years past, I’ve learned to embrace new ways.
This year, the boys and I all came together on the 23rd, when I was finally strong enough. The boxes of ornaments were laid out, and our little tree waited… We have a lot of ornaments; far more than this little tree could hold. So, we chose the most precious, the ones we love the most. Germany is away from his family for the first time, and he shared stories of their family traditions. My boys took turns putting their favorite ornaments on the tree; we listened to Christmas music, and remembered past holidays. We placed my girl’s favorite ornaments on there for her; we carefully unwrapped all of our treasures, and I watched that little tree spring to life. Just as I thought we were finished, I saw an old gift tag in the box, which I’ve saved for years. It was on a gift from my mother, so many years ago– before she was sick, when her handwriting was her own, when my babies were young… There it was, “To Dawn, my 1st baby, Love, Mom,” and I cried. Who knows why I saved it all those years ago, but this year, that little angel felt like another Christmas Miracle… one week before the 2nd anniversary of Mom’s death.
Christmas Eve morning began with a true miracle. I was sitting in my kitchen, watching the water of Puget Sound, and thinking about my girl. Principessa had told me that she’d be spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. As I sat there, I was imagining that with the time difference, she was either on her way there or in the city…. and the phone rang. When I picked up the line, there was an explosion of sound and my girl’s joyful voice. “Mom, I’m here in Bethlehem, at the Church of the Nativity, listen!” I could hear the magic across the lines. “A man from the Andes in full garb on the Arab bus; a choir from Korea, in their traditional costumes, singing carols; venders selling grilled corn and hot chestnuts and special spiced foods; people praying and rejoicing all around me!” I could hear it; I could feel it! She was crying, I was crying, as a Korean choir sang Oh Holy Night and then a round of traditional carols. It was like picking up the phone and hearing angels sing. As I listened to the stunning beauty of the music, the sounds of the street, my girl so full of wonder and joy… for the first time in our lives, I truly felt that she understood what Christmas once meant to me. I will hold that sweetest of moments, shared with my daughter, for the rest of my life. I had chills all day… and my temperature was fine.
From the hospital room this week, as the doctors debated letting me go home, my head was spinning. Christmas Eve and Christmas night are a big deal in our home. I generally cook a prime rib each Christmas Eve, and a ham with potatoes au gratin on Christmas, with all of the trimmings. Others come to our house every year; we couldn’t recall having ever been to anyone else’s house for Christmas. I could feel panic set in, even as I waited for the discharge papers. What will we do for Christmas? How will I pull this off… I couldn’t help but think, will Christmas just be another dinner, with my boys and me? I never had to say the words out loud. Good friends didn’t skip a beat: “Come for Christmas Eve; we’ll do everything, just get yourself over here.” So my first outing in 10 days was for Christmas Eve. My first few days home, had been a bit bumpy: my first morning I fell and cut my head, just trying to get a drink of water; clearly things were not normal. After hospital “gowns” and pjs for so long, it actually felt strange to just put on clothes again, let alone step outside and socialize, but off we went for Christmas Eve.
Note to self: Having been in the hospital for five days, and having eaten lots of Ritz crackers for days on end, it’s perhaps not wisest to jump right back in, with 5 dozen fresh oysters, a grapefruit cocktail and cheese appetizers. It seemed like a good idea, when it was all laid out before me. I wanted so badly to dive in and pretend everything was normal for a little while. It tasted oh so good. Sublime, even. I almost felt like myself again… Until I was sick for an hour, as my stomach adjusted to the idea of Christmas miracles. A break with games, and lots of laughs, helped me get ready for round two. Our friends prepared an incredible meal of grilled shrimp, scallops, home-made traditional grits, and salad… and this time, I paced myself. We all joined together at the table to celebrate Christmas Eve, and did what we do best together: laughed, and eat, and soak in all that holiday cheer. It was just what the doctors
should have ordered.
As the evening came to a close, I was tired and we got ready to go home… and then, my sweet friend, S, asked: “Are you going to come to church with us?” Let’s be clear here, our family is Jewish; I haven’t been to church in more than 30 years; the thought had not occurred to me, before that moment. I had been busting his 18 year-old chops about going to Midnight services, because it was special to his mom, and he was busting my chops in return, when he asked. But in that moment, with Christmas miracles stacking up, I said “Yes.” I’m pretty sure the entire group did a major double take. There was probably a moment’s concern: the ground might in fact tremble if my long-sinning self walked through those doors. It’s been that long. It was long night; it was hard to be there, as my physical exhaustion set in, but I felt so connected to my grandmother (who helped raise me, and who I adored), my grandfather, the Christmases of my childhood, the things I’ve let go along the way, in choosing to raise my children in the Jewish faith. The prayers were familiar, words I once knew so well. The carols were so beautiful in that big place, where sound echoed and settled on me. I was with a lovely young girl, who recently lost her own mother (far too young), and we shared a special moment acknowledging our Moms, and our loss, as well as the fortune of being together right there in that moment.
And then, everyone lit a candle, the lights were lowered and the entire congregation sang all four verses of Silent Night. All of my life, long after I was too big, I would sit on my grandmother’s lap, or beside her, when this song came on. It’s the most special of carols for me. As the beautiful sound surrounded me, I was overcome with emotion… I felt myself let go of some grief; I felt myself held by those I’ve loved, lost and still miss, and I felt myself surrounded by so much love and support. When I came home, very late and very tired… I quietly decked our tree with candy canes (a tradition I started when the kids were little… evidence that Santa has come), took a moment to enjoy the quiet house and the beautiful tree, and then put on my oxygen and went to bed… feeling content, and blessed.
Christmas morning dawned bright and clear. We are a house full of big kids and adults now; we’ve become a civilized group. There’s no racing to the living room. No tearing of packages and the wonderful, crazy mayhem of our early days as parents of young children. We skyped with Germany’s family (as they enjoyed their Christmas dinner); we made our coffees and teas; we put on the Christmas music and put out the annual almond torte, and we opened our gifts. We took our time, letting each person enjoy their gifts, and the quiet and fun of being together.
Christmas Evening was our gig. The kids helped me pull it all together and our friends from Christmas Eve, came to our house to share in another day of celebrating, along with my sister, brother-in-law and niece. My 14-year-old niece and I made individual Yorkshire Puddings to go with the Prime Rib; my brother-in-law knocked it out of the park with potatoes au gratin, and my sister added a killer salad. My sister and I have a complex relationship… it’s been kicked around and battered by Huntington’s Disease and hard family history. But this Christmas, it was simple. I was so happy to have her there, and we just fell into an easy, good place. Christmas miracles galore! It all felt so easy and good… friends, family, easy laughs, kind gestures, good food, and real Christmas magic. It was just so easy and real. No crazy food wrangling, or efforts to make it all “perfect.” I just enjoyed the evening, and enjoyed all the good melting down on me.
At the end of the day… after two big days of festivities, and feeling exhaustion begin to overwhelm me, I found myself alone in the living room again. I sat with my thoughts, and let this crazy week settle over me. Two weeks ago, there is no way I could have predicted any of this. I would not have imagined being sick and in the hospital. I had expectations of Christmas, my kids, my family, friends and of myself that all shifted in a few short days. I lay on the floor and looked up through the tree, the lights and ornaments sparkling and twinkling– something I’ve done every year, since I was a little girl– and I breathed in deeply, taking in all the good that I have had this Christmas. My Christmas tree shimmered and my heart was full… And Christmas miracles abounded.
Do you believe in magic? Tell me about your Christmas; leave a comment. Have you had a Christmas when things didn’t line up, when it all went better (or worse) than you anticipated? Share your thoughts.
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A big thank you to Carol Cameleon over at Virtually All Sorts, who nominated me for the Sisterhood of the World Blogs Award. I recently shared this award with some other great bloggers, so I’m passing on the usual round of links and questions about me. It’s all here on TFTM and I’m still taking it easy as I recover. I am thankful to great readers and supports of my blog, like Carol (check out her book here), who take the time to read my work and share it. Thanks Carol!