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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

It’s Christmas Eve, 65 degrees and raining, nary a snowflake in sight. I was much too lazy and cheap to get a tree this year, so the best I did was to line up all my Christmas Hello Kitties on my bar shelves and light some pine scented candles.

We had a relaxing day of couch craters and Destiny, concave carrot cake and whiskey tasting. I didn’t plan anything special for dinner, but I did plan dinner, CL’s Famous Meatloaf with cranberries and roasted potatoes. It was that or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Sometime around 2pm as I was watching football and playing word games, I wondered how bad it would really be to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The sink was filled with dishes from Friday’s dinner and yesterday’s breakfast, today’s breakfast and a few snacks in between.

Thanks to a box of gifts from my mother, I now have about six new kinds of honey, half a dozen chocolate bars, some plantain chips and literally six containers of homemade cookies that she packaged up and sent. All this means that my pantry has now taken over half the kitchen, so I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going to put a bowl to mix the meatloaf.

And then the power went out. And stayed out.

At first I panicked. Two years ago when the power went out on Christmas, there was a bombing in Nashville. I had an “oh boy, what now” moment. And then I thought well, guess I can’t cook now. Darn.

But it was back in fifteen minutes. An “equipment malfunction.” Too bad it couldn’t have malfunctioned for another two or three hours.

Being Christmas Eve, I made the meatloaf.

I thought about all the Christmas Eves that my mother made fish, because that’s what you eat on Christmas Eve. I spoke to her for a few minutes today but she couldn’t talk long. She was too busy making fish.

So I played with my Advent calendar for a bit. It was snowing in Edwardian England, big fat flakes outside my virtual window. I lit my fireplace, woke up the kitten, put together a puzzle, set the table. It’s funny how an imaginary world can bring you back to memories of your own.

I don’t specifically recall a snowy Christmas Eve, though I’m sure there were some. I do remember the Christmas Eve traditions, going to church so you could spend Christmas morning in your pajamas opening gifts and eating cookies, exchanging gifts with my brothers, hanging stockings by the fireplace which my father lit all golden and roaring.

Even though I am not there, there’s warmth and comfort in knowing they still are, my mother making fish, my father lighting a fire, my brothers, whichever of them happen to be there on any given year, and now my nephew hanging stockings.

My stocking was always the biggest. A perk of being the only girl in a string of six kids. It was as tall as me for a long time, and was always filled to the brim with little treats and treasures.

Before we moved to Mahopac and had a real fireplace, we had a cardboard one. I don’t remember it well, but I have pictures to prove it. It bothered me not at all that it was cardboard, and never occurred to me that Santa would not be able to come down the chimney.

I do remember one year my parents had Santa visit our apartment. It was my cousin, a friend who lived downstairs, and me, gathered there in front of the cardboard fireplace when this surprise visitor arrived, all fat and jolly in his red suit, and parked himself on the couch in the living room.

I was terrified. I hid behind the lamp.

Since there were oh-so-many of us, including my parents and grandparents, we exchanged “kid gifts” on Christmas Eve. The kids gave gifts to each other and to the grown ups, who acted very excited about getting another pot holder or a little snow globe that you bought at the Christmas Shop at school, which your parents gave you money for so you could buy their gift.

Then we left out cookies and milk for Santa and got herded off to bed. Or… maybe went willingly for the only night of the year, otherwise Santa would not stop by. We tried to stay awake, boy did we. But no matter how excited, we always fell asleep, and Santa did his magic.

One of my favorite parts of Christmas Eve was waking up sometime in the middle of the night or early morning before dawn and sneaking out to the living room. Somehow in between getting in bed and waking back up, the room had transformed into a glorious world of presents.

We always left the tree lights on all night, and I liked to sit on the floor in the dark and just look at those piles of presents under that glowing tree. It was almost better than opening them.

I even liked going to church. I think it drove my parents crazy because the church was always so crowded that they had mass upstairs and downstairs, and we always ended up relegated to the downstairs which was basically like a school gym with a bunch of folding chairs.

But the altar was covered in poinsettia, and there was nothing better than standing shoulder to shoulder in a room full of people, hot and bundled up anyway because there was nowhere to lay your coat, singing Glooooo-oo-o-o-o-oooo-o-o-o-o-ooooo-o-o-o-o-oooria at the top of your lungs.

Then going back out into the freezing cold and scooting home to your fish dinner.

Christmas Eve may be a bit quieter these days but I still walk around humming the hymns – the good ones, not the ones clanged out by the church next door. And I just discovered the Norad Santa tracker so I’ve been watching Santa weave his way across Quebec and Toronto, Niagara and Ottowa. By the time I turned it on he had already delivered some five billion gifts. I don’t know where he’s been or where he’s going next but I feel like I could watch this all night.

I know in at least one house in New York there are cookies on the table. And somewhere frozen in time is a little girl sneaking out of her bedroom to gaze starry-eyed at a magical, magnificent, miraculous Christmas vision.

Photo: He’s on his way to Tennessee! Chattanooga is up next. Hurry, get in bed!