It is a typical California December sunset. Branches of deciduous trees and a few palms are silhouetted against the dark shadow of the mountains and a sky that has a slash of deep coral fading into peach, pale yellow, and the purest blue blending into the blue-black cap of the night sky. Tonight, the moon is a crescent and Venus sparkles above the horizon. Around the neighborhood, holiday lights are coming on. Not a creature appears to be stirring, and there is an expectant hush in the air.
And I think, What a contrast. Last year, we were burdened by grief and isolated by COVID. Our only decoration was a pre-decorated 32” fake tree. None of the tchotchkes were brought out. There were no bowls of bright Christmas candy, and although the stockings were hung, they were sadly empty.
This year is so different. My heart is full of love and expectation, and the magic of the season weaves in and out of my days like an old familiar carol. A few days ago, we decorated the house. John strings the lights on the mantle and outside the house. He then sets up the tree for me to decorate—a job I usually do grudgingly, since there are just so many ornaments. This year, listening to traditional Christmas music, I took each ornament out, looked at it, and, more often than not, a face would pop into my mind. Particularly cherished are those handmade gems made by our children and grandchildren, and those given to us by relatives and friends who have moved away or passed on.
One tiny, chipped red ornament stands out. A tag tied on it with string says, “Brought from Germany during World War II.” That is when John’s mother and grandparents escaped from the Nazis. This globe is hung near the top of the tree, a reminder that freedom is one of the greatest gifts and that it must be protected and celebrated.
The tree was almost complete when family gathered yesterday to celebrate Heather’s birthday. All families have traditions, and one of ours is that Chris must put the angel made in kindergarten on the top of the tree. Made out of construction paper, she has lost her halo and is a little battered, but she is still smiling wide and her eyes are twinkling as she looks down on us. A few years ago, I told our granddaughter Brooke that her daddy had made the angel in the fifth grade. She looked at me so strangely … Then I realized I had said, “Fifth grade,” instead of “Five years old.”
Chris’s sisters love to bring this up as he crowns the tree.
It has been a lovely season, even though at times it has been busy and a bit hectic. As usual, the season is a mixed bag. Loss is no respecter of the holidays. We will attend the funeral of a good friend next week.
The dogs are actually experiencing their first real Christmas. They have reacted to all the activity and changes by being naughty, digging great holes in the yard, sprinkling a rug, and chewing a hole in the family room couch. They are in danger of getting coal in their stockings. However, their puppy wonder at all that is going on is amusing. Last night, as John and I sipped champagne and chatted, carols played softly in the background, the tree sparkled, and the fire warmed us. Beside us on the couch, Sadie and Teddy were dozing—just like all their canine predecessors.
This year, there seems to be more gatherings of family and friends, and I have cherished the warm companionship. Decorating, shopping, and each church service have been touched by sweet nostalgia accompanied by an occasional whiff of evergreen. After all the loss, sickness, and loneliness of last year, this season feels like a miracle of graciousness, good will, and acceptance. In that frame of mind, I guess maybe Sadie and Teddy will get a toy and a chew in their stockings. After all, it is the season of forgiveness and grace.
May your holidays be blessed with love that consumes all your senses and fills you with joy, peace, and contentment.