Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Special Hours of Christmas

Rickie Lee Jones w/ The Chieftans--"O, Holy Night" (mp3)

Everyone knows about these hours, but no one talks about them. They are the last hours of Christmas Eve, the earliest hours of Christmas morning. Much as we would like to think that the time for presents, meals, visitors, or playing with toys define Christmas day, it is really these latest, earliest hours.

When you are very young, these hours pass more slowly than any hours of the entire year. You know you should be asleep, you want to be asleep, you need to be asleep for what will follow, but the anticipation of the day to come is so great that you can do nothing but lie awake, toss and turn, count sheep, play mind games with yourself, talk to your brother or sister, if he or she is in the room or bed with you, anything that might have the slightest chance of getting you or both of you to get to sleep. If the sheets were cold, they get too warm; if they stay cold, you know you will stay awake. You listen for reindeer on the roof, for someone to enter your house and eat the snacks you have left.

When you are a teenager, these hours may not start out with family, but will definitely end with family. I remember one Christmas Eve where we went to church with our Catholic friend Geoff, who had to check Christmas Eve mass off of his checklist, but we decided we would attend after a night of driving and and drinking vodka and something, maybe Coke, maybe whatever mixed with it that night. I was in the back seat; the jug was handed to me with the command, "Finish it," something I was all too happy to do, having no idea how much vodka was down there at the bottom. I don't remember much of the rest of the evening, except stumbling into that church and wobbling my way through the service and ending up at home where my mother and brother were still up and carrying on, somehow, a lucid, or so it seemed, conversation with them. Opening presents the next morning with a raging, naseous hangover was among the least fun things that I have ever done.

As a young husband, ultimately a young parent, the wee hours of Christmas Eve/Christmas were spent getting the upcoming event together, putting together whatever needed constructing, be it a Barbie Dream House or a bicycle. By that time, you are completely exhausted, but you have certain tasks that must be finished. There is no way around that, and so you keep on and keep on and keep on. It is a very pleasant tiredness, and you know that you will muster the energy for whatever comes by morning light.

Then there comes some year, or years, where you are just up during those hours because you expect to be up at those hours, and the earliest hours of Christmas bring with them the oddest kind of loneliness. You don't feel bad about being alone, because you really aren't. Every Christmas that has ever happened to you is there with you, and you are there alone to try to process all of them at once. You fill stockings for children who are too old for them. You look with satisfaction upon your gifts, the ones that you will give to others.

When your children get older, all of you are up until midnight or beyond. Some are snacking, some are drinking wine. From time to time, everyone is laughing, as you all remember this or that from previous years, as you finish up some ritual that has become part of the late evening, a series of fondues, perhaps, or a gathering with other families at another house.

At some point, some year, you just use that hour to relax. It is the quietest moment of the year. Everyone in the house slumbers. You sit. In darkness. Your worst fears are somehow muted.

This year, you realize that you owe your blog a blogpost, and after some of all of the above, you feel some latent inspiration, some desire to get all of it down while all of it is on your mind, and so you spend part of those hours sitting in front of a computer, even as a fire burns elsewhere, as others in the house look at photographs or listen to favorite Christmas songs. You have obligations to fulfill.

In many ways, where you are now is no different from where you have ever been--alone, expectant, lonely, not alone, nostalgic, anxious, filled with obligations and upcoming duties, maybe filled with a bit too much to drink. And you think, as you glance at the clock for confirmation, 'Welcome to Christmas, that loneliest and famliest of holidays, when all that is expected cannot possibly be fulfilled, and yet, somehow is.'

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.


troutking said...

Very nice. Merry Christmas.

troutking said...

Very nice. Merry Christmas.