Hardbound children’s books consisting of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” “The Night Before Christmas,” and “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street” rested on the coffee table in the living room; stockings lined the fireplace mantle in no particular order, but there was one for each of us, including the dogs, who would find an extra-special treat tucked away come the next morning. The tree glimmered in an array of colored lights, bouncing off the ornaments I’d known all my life. There…There’s the bear with my birthstone, the pink baby carriage, the sock embroidered with “Baby’s First Christmas.” And, look — hanging on a bough is an ornament made out of popsicle sticks I’d made in Sunday school.
Once, we tried stringing popcorn for the tree, friends from just up the block joining us as we sipped hot chocolate and fished in the bowls for perfect kernels, singing along to carols as we strung one, ate one, strung one, ate one…
When we were older, presents would make their way under the tree as soon as they were wrapped, days before Christmas — that was after I discovered the half-eaten cookies in the trash and the glass of milk in the sink, put two-and-two together, and realized that Santa was actually my dad. Christmas Eve would find us walking back from my grandparents’ house, full of food and happiness, the magic lingering among the late evening as we decided to give each other our gifts while the clock passed midnight – a tradition we’ve since kept, the night somehow making this togetherness seem more profound, more comfortably encompassing, more…lasting.
Everything has changed over time, as it inevitably does. For so long, I wanted to hold onto this tightly, not wanting to grow up, not wanting to let go of the magic that this night had wrapped us in, the squeals and smiles of the mornings. Wishing I could freeze those past moments, bring them into the future, though I know that’s impossible, know that everything has to change, know that the magic is still there only different, transformed, as we have grown up and older and moved onto different lives.
Dinner with the whole family, together and enjoying the laughter, the stories, the company…And still, empty spaces, reminding us, reminding me, that not everyone is here. At least, not as I would want it to be, not as it could ever be again.
My grandpa would sit at the head of the table, his presence all-encompassing, though quiet, but very much there.
I miss him being here.
We would wake up early on Christmas morning and sneak a peek down the stairs with my instigator-brothers; I remember showing off my presents to my grandma as she sat smiling serenely in a chair, hugging her with a dramatic thank you, thank you, thank you as only a six-year old could exclaim.
I miss hugging her.
It’s those memories that haunt you, that whisper recollections of love and moments of pure joy into your heart, wishing somehow you could go back, though you’re still eagerly anticipating going forward while very much enjoying now.
It was dogs resting at my feet as we unwrapped presents on Christmas Eve for the first time, when we were old enough to appreciate the lingering togetherness of the evening — or, at the very least, appreciate sleeping in the next morning.
Now it’s other dogs — my dog, my Riley — who stares up at me with soulful eyes, and I reach down and hug him and show him his new toy and treats.
How puzzling it all seems, wanting to relive moments and memories while looking forward to creating new ones. How the past feels so alive on days like today; all you want to do is wrap them around you like a comfortable sweater — warm, inviting, safe. It’s as if…if you can hold fast to those memories, then that means you can hold onto those feelings…And the magic that makes them so.
The memories that seem so trivial but that make it all so special.
It’s getting into my nightgown or feet pajamas on Christmas Eve when I’m still young, after we’ve all returned from dinner — it’s this moment that is always the most vivid. Curling up on the couch with my brothers and my mom and dad as she reads from those hardcover books, now worn from so many years, having seen so many Christmases. It’s padding into the living room with the family after midnight to put the baby Jesus in the nativity scene. It’s been years since we’ve taken out that nativity set — I’d almost forgotten that part.
Now I’m in my own house, traveling with Riley to their house for the holiday. And it somehow seems nothing less than bittersweet, knowing how it has changed and that it will continue to change as we grow our own families, begin our own traditions.
But, see, these are the little moments that I never want to forget, that I want to keep close to my heart, filling my soul with peace and love and happiness and pure and absolute child-like joy. Things have changed, yes, in profound and permanent ways, but we’re always together. Loving, laughing, lighting each other up and feeling so full that you might burst.
That’s the magic of Christmas. These memories of the past, these moments of this present, these feelings of wonder for the future. This is what I want to keep with me.
All of it.
Forever, for always.
My family and I used to watch “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street” every year. This song has always, always touched my heart, and I still catch myself singing the words or humming the melody. Perhaps some things never do change…
“These precious moments…Hold them very dear.”