“Let’s skip Christmas this year,” I said on December 1st. After all, our moving day was two weeks away and no doubt we would be spending the better part of a month unpacking and recovering from the general chaos associated with such a major life event.
“Agreed,” my Darling replied. “There’s no point in unpacking all of the ornaments this year, just to have to take them all down again a few days later. We’ll just plan for a spectacular Christmas next year.”
“Plus, if you think about it, we just gave ourselves a lovely Christmas present – a new home. There’ll be lots of things we’ll need to get – curtains, shelving…”
“Exactly. We don’t really need presents.”
With that settled, we focused on the great move. Packing boxes, schlepping furniture and making sure the cats didn’t disappear or have feline meltdowns consumed us for the better part of two weeks. Finally we turned in the keys to the old place and said goodbye for the last time to the tiny cottage in the blue-collar neighborhood that had been home for the first years of our marriage.
* * * *
The day after we were “officially” moved in, the subject came up again. We were making a run to the hardware store to pick up an ax to chop some kindling to fit into our fireplace. The old place didn’t have a hearth – the new home had two.
As we passed a display of poinsettias and Christmas lights, my husband sighed. “I have a confession to make… I was planning on surprising you by having everything unpacked and decorated for the holidays. But there’s just too much to do.”
I hugged him tightly. “Oh Darling! Don’t worry about Christmas. We already said we weren’t going to do any decorating this year. Besides, it’s only a few days before Christmas. It doesn’t make any sense to drag out the Christmas ornaments now… do we even know where they are?”
He smiled. “Good point. I think they are in the garage… somewhere…”
But even as we put on smiles for each other, I could see in his eyes that he was feeling the same little bit of wistfulness that I did. Christmas was such a big deal for both of us. I liked to get the tree decorated as early as possible and my Darling put on Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. We put lights on the house, sent batches of Christmas cards to everyone we knew, and cooked a feast, even if it was just for the two of us. This year there was no tree, no lights, no music and no cards. Even our “feast” this year seemed to have little more meaning than any other dressed up dinner.
“We’ll have next year and every year for the rest of our lives,” I said, noticing a display of garlands.
“Yes we will,” my Darling murmured, fingering the braid accenting a nutcracker figure. “Next year will be the best Christmas ever.”
On December 23rd, we cleared the garage and found the ornaments. “It’s really too late now,” I said sadly. “Maybe if we had found them before…”
“Yeah, like last week,” my Darling concurred as we loaded a carload of stuff destined for charity. “Anyway, there’s no real point now thinking about it. Let’s go to the store and pick up milk and lentils.”
He was in a grumpy mood. The overall disarray coupled with the realization that there had been a lot more junk in the old garage than he’d assumed had set his nerves on edge. We had fought that morning – something we almost never do. Now we were in that uncomfortable stage where we had reached a resolution, but the feelings of hurt were still there. We rode to the Goodwill in silence, listening to an interview on NPR disintegrate into a petty argument over differing political viewpoints. Finally my Darling changed the radio over to the classical station.
Christmas music filled the car.
“You know,” he grumbled, “This is awful. I hated Christmas before I met you, but then you made it into my favorite holiday. I hate that we aren’t doing anything this year.”
I started to cry. He was right.
He made a sharp right turn into a parking lot. “I’m making a decision now, and I want no argument from you.”
A hand-lettered sign said “Xmas Trees.” The lot was empty of cars and almost empty of trees. A few sad specimens leaned along the fence in the rain like the unpopular kids chosen last for a school team – too spindly or lopsided to make for a picture perfect Christmas. An overanxious cashier met us at the gate, peppering us with questions about size and type of tree we were looking for. It occurred to us then that we didn’t even know how tall our ceilings were in the new place.
It started to rain, so we chose the first one we saw.
“Thank you,” I whispered as we drove away.
When we got home, my Darling fished out his Christmas CDs and settled on one of his favorites. I started decorating the tree.
“I want you to give me an honest answer – did you get me any presents?”
“No. We said we wouldn’t. Did you?”
We hugged each other and laughed, realizing that Christmas really isn’t about the shopping and the presents. It’s that sense of magic that happens whether you want it to or not. You can’t bury it away or put it on hold because it isn’t convenient. The Christmas spirit will gnaw an empty hole in your heart if you try and ignore it. As we held each other and watched the lights twinkle on our little crooked tree in the corner, we finally felt at home.