my dad wants a presentation of sorts on christmas eve from my siblings and me. he asked us to share memories of living in austin, so i wrote about christmas. this is a surprise for my mom, so don’t tell her!
i’m waiting for christmas to come – my decorations sit in boxes in a truck 45 miles away and the perfect tree is waiting for me to find it. i’m getting antsy. i sit in the finnegan living room, the last setting my memory reasonably recognizes as a part of my youth. my house is gone; an aunt and uncle are gone; my parents live 4 hours northwest; the friends are elsewhere; i am gone as well. even the finnegan living room has changed: its furniture has been replaced and new rugs line the floor. but it remains steadfast and secure in my memory as the place where i almost caught santa claus – my first christmas memory full of excitement and hope, that little tug at the concave place between your heart and your stomach from which butterflies burst.
memories of the house i grew up in started off yellow, and early in my life, a brigade of painters came and changed it to red. when we moved, it became known as “the red house”, mostly by my brother who was 6 at the time. christmas, of course, moved with us. when we moved, i was 14, so the mystery of santa claus was long found out and the time of your life when christmasses start to blend together a little bit had started.
the red house sat on a slight incline in the almost-country amidst a slough of trees, some of which were planted with christmas in mind. every year we opened our driveway to those who would cut their own christmas trees, and every year my siblings and i would watch remorsefully as car after car drove in and out with a tree strapped to the top or thrown in the back of a pickup while our living room sat bare. in the wallace household, advent is a big deal. but then, so is christmas.
the preparation and waiting for christmas was just as important as christmas itself. when advent started in late november or early december, my mom pulled out the advent wreath candle holder, a brass circle with 4 spots for candles. in those days, where evergreen boughs were plentiful, we would line the circle with greenery. three purple candles and one pink candle went in the wreath, and daily advent prayers commenced. at the time, the waiting and anticipation was torture, but looking back, the waiting was the best part. what’s christmas without the tingle of anticipation, the jolt of fluttering in your chest?
we watched the trees leave the yard, and soon enough we were able to trudge through the snowy fields to find our own tree to drag back to the house, leaving a tell-tale trail of branch marks in the snow behind us. we set it up in the living room in front of the windows or front door (which no one used), watched our parents fight over lights and tinsel, then were able to hang decorations. the matchbox mouse, jingly raccoon, angels, fabric ball ornaments from 1978…they all went on the tree or hung from the corkboard over the couch one by one.
some presents appeared. the pink candle on the advent wreath was lighted. carols from the readers digest LP collection played more frequently. christmas was coming.
when christmas eve arrived, a flurry of activity ignited as preparations for the buffet began. food was cooked and displayed, dresses were unfurled, luminaries were colored and lighted to line our long driveway, lights on the outside trees were plugged in, red cake recipes were perfected. the evening flew: relatives came and went, chet atkins played on the record player, and lights and laughter punctuated the nighttime darkness. after the kitchen was cleaned, dresses were exchanged for pajamas, and it was time for stockings.
the last holdout in the christmas season decorations, the stockings lived in a christmas box until right before bedtime on christmas eve. after all the hubbub of the buffet, finally it was time to put out that final symbol of christmastime. then bedtime.
like falling asleep to the smell of pumpkin pies baking the night before thanksgiving, falling asleep christmas eve was excruciating. tossing and turning, adjusting the blankets, counting sheep – nothing truly worked, even now. you fell asleep when you did, letting the anticipation and anxiousness for the next morning flow through your body until your mind had quelled enough to let itself burrow into a slumber.
and then it was christmas.
early christmasses were always defineable – the year i got my bigwheel. the year i got the guitar. the year i got my bike. if you ask me what i got for christmas 5 years ago, i couldn’t tell you, but i do know that the feeling of christmas maintains year after year. perhaps it is a sign of goodwill and maturity that a person doesn’t remember the material goods of the season, that it is about the people you embrace and the feeling of christmas hope.
so often they say christmas is all about children and that’s what matters. i beg to differ – christmas is for everyone. perhaps there are some who don’t want to admit to it, but everyone, young and old, gets excited about christmas. even 30 years after hearing jingle bells and almost catching santa claus, there is nothing that will take away that feeling of excitement at christmas and that little hope tug in my chest.