These days are not conducive to sitting to write and I have been too lazy, too tired to exercise the discipline necessary. I am up so early and tending to tasks and chores of the house. I have met my meditation and exercise goals most days. I have picked Julia up from school a few time for losing her chances. I have started the great hunt to make Christmas. I am still bathing and bandaging Julia’s wounded body. And my eyes close too close to the time that Julia’s eyes close with all good intentions of getting up again out of the bed to taps on these keys.
The outside gets colder and there is frost on the cars and on what remains of the lawns but no snow yet. Soon. I am sure. But not yet. I put up a few lights yesterday. Yes, Christmas lights, of course, but it struck me a few years ago that putting up lights and decorating the house is such an incredibly pagan thing to do. I am not really celebrating the birth of a sacred babe, but furiously preserving the light against the great dark and cold of winter. Sure, a creche can be put up, a reminder of the “real” celebration that is Christmas, but at least for me, and I dare say for many others, it is not the creche that we long for, that we can’t wait for each year. It is the twinkle of colored lights, the smell of an evergreen in the house, mystery packages and children who search through the house for “santa’s” hiding place. It is the hugs and kisses of those coming home, the conversations that catch us up, the food -- the glorious food, planned for, made time for, cooked for days, allowed only because of the holiday. Food that mothers and grandmothers made, food that is sent from far away only once a year. It is all so sensual, so of this body, so of this earthly plane.
It is the time of year and also that I’ve been deprived of a completely working kitchen that all I can think of is the food! I am hoping that I can do some baking and some mailing of my baked goods, but that needs to depend on how long it takes me to move back into the kitchen and put the house in order. (And clean because my cleaning lady has changed her phone number and I have no idea how to get in touch with her. I haven’t seen her since the kitchen remodel started -- okay only two months -- but enough time to lose someone.) But even if I do no baking before Cheshire comes home, she wants to do some to bring back to New York. And it is not just the baking but the menu for Christmas brunch. She is leaving on Christmas day in the afternoon (can it be a tradition to buy those cheap airplane? How we stretch our economic gifts.) and so, brunch with Mary and Robert is the plan. Linde too will be with us and the house will be wonderfully full. I hope it will be very noisy!
But the food, the food! Combing through recipes, I found a lovely grapefruit salad, perfect for a meal that has feet in the morning and afternoon. But even the contemplation of it sent me back, sent me to remembering that this will be the first year in the last thirty that there will be no Florida grapefruit from grandpa. David’s father. And I am chilled to remember that everyone is dead. Not everyone, but everyone who would remember to do that. There is no moving forward without having a touch with what is behind. No unmitigated joy. No fiery joy without the damp of what is lost.
And I don’t mean to deny any religious inclination to the winter holidays. Not at all. Actually, for years, I’ve felt that Christianity makes so much of a babe’s birthday, when it is his parents who should be celebrated. Yes, birthdays are for children, for the one who is born, but as I get older, I’ve come to believe that birthdays should be the real mothers and fathers days, maybe a real ancestors day. What kind of parents were Mary and Joseph that they could raise a son who could have the courage to preach and perform miracles and change the world’s order? How did they encourage that child? What was his learning? How much love did they pour into him that he could grow up and pour love into the world? Would that every parent take their lesson to heart, although clearly self-preservation was not among their lessons. Talk about roots and wings! Maybe only now, do I understand a little something about joy and loss, raising and growing together and then letting go. No, I have not lost a child, but I can see the possibility of such a losing. And I am not that sad today. Not today.
Back to the sensual, my delight in the pagan joy of light. In the early days of my relationship with David, I had to give up my utter joy of Christmas. As a kid, David felt the outsiders view of the holiday. I don’t think that Hanukah was celebrated with as much gusto as it is today, and although his parents put up a tree “for the children” a few times, by the time I met David, he wanted nothing to do with the winter holidays. Those first years we did not have a tree although a small tree crept into our lives before Cheshire was born. It was Cheshire that wanted lights on the house like everyone else and David allowed something “tasteful.” I don’t know if given complete freedom if I would have stayed with tasteful or would have exploded into Jersey excess. Tasteful has now become my own mantra, even when I long for the lights. So, I put up a few lights, a bit of greenery, and some lanterns outside. I try to separate Hanukah from Christmas -- doing more generic decorating and even Hanukah decorating during the Jewish holiday week and then sliding into the reds and greens of Christmas. Years like this one, it is impossible with Hanukah forming a perfect parenthesis around Christmas. And this year is about reclaiming, carving out something new, adapting the old to the new. And Julia is very much into decorating this year. She saw the Christmas boxes and she could talk about nothing else last night. I think she would have been the same way last year, but before that, she didn’t really understand.
It was Cheshire that dragged us into Christmas. She was seven when she insisted on a glorious angel for the top of our tree. And we made yearly excursions to stores and shops for some special decoration. And lights! In the early days, I put no lights on the tree. In deference to David although now that I think of it, once a tree came into the house, what difference did lights make?
By the time, Cheshire was 7 or 8, the routine of Christmas morning, usually at our house, or somewhere where we had put up a tree. We had a few law school years of driving out to Jersey for Christmas. We would stay at David’s father’s house to give us some private family time as his parents were in Florida that time of year. We would bring out decorations and tree stand and lights out from Indiana, along with Cheshire’s gifts which had to be surreptitiously packed into the trunk. We’d buy and put up a Jersey tree and later vacuum and clean every needle so that his father would not know we brought a tree into the house. We had a ritual of setting up the video camera and our breakfast before allowing Cheshire into the room. Oh, she complained and whined and pleaded. For so many year’s worth of Christmas mornings.
To think of it now, it was all so delightful. David mellowed into Christmas -- he had no choice, to be sure. I mellowed out of the Christmases of my family of origin. We arrived upon what felt right for us, not some arbitrary midpoint, but some melange of celebration. Celebration of light. Celebration of our little family. Celebration of those we loved. And perhaps of raising and growing together and letting go. No joy without pain, but I will leave a window slightly cracked open just in case some joy wants to come in.