My seventeenth Christmas

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, December 20, 2017

By Deborah Craig

It is Christmas Eve of 1970. I am a senior in high school, and had been told earlier that month by my parents that this Christmas would be a slim one for me, since I’d be going to Paris on my spring break with my high school French Club, accompanied by my grandmother and her sister, my great-aunt. Present money, I am told, are for my trip.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

And so we have our yearly three generation celebration of Christmas Eve dinner, attend the vigil mass, come home, eat more, and, as my youngest siblings are still 5 and 12, we must open presents in the morning. So the four of us hang our stockings and the family pictures are taken.

My boyfriend then calls, and we talk quietly into the phone in the kitchen until my mother calls for me to get off the phone.

It’s Christmas morning. I am content. Though only a few gifts are for me, they are well-chosen and what I wanted: A Beatles album, Let it Be, Yardley cosmetics, electric hot rollers, and a cute but cheap teal blue non-electric Olivetti typewriter, which will have broken parts within in two months of using it.

There is the usual focus on my youngest brother’s excited joy over his mountain of toys and gadgets. So after breakfast I wait until I’m alone in the kitchen with the dishes to make a quick call to my boyfriend. I’m dismayed to learn that he has to work today.

The Italian restaurant where we both work part-time is open today. He is a cook. I am a buffet server. But today there is no buffet.

So it is hours before Christmas dinner, and my 12-year-old brother and I take our skates and saucer sleds on a ten-minute walk to the reservoir.

It is a frigid but brilliantly blue Christmas afternoon with blinding, glittering snow. As we reach the ridge overlooking the reservoir, I see that our entire neighborhood is here: parents, children, classmates from school. I’m delighted. I sled down the ridge with my brother. I skate alongside my neighbors and friends, and we chat. One parent has brought an urn of hot chocolate and hands me a cup.     It suddenly occurs to me how happy I am. Not in the way my brother is, with his 30 some-odd lineup of toys that will be mostly ignored by Valentine’s Day, but in a deep contentment that I sense from living a life where I am loved, where I am exhilarated just thinking about the upcoming year of travel, high school graduation and college; a life of my first serious boyfriend, and the all the angst and exhilaration that first love embraces.

And it is the first time in my life that I realize that joy comes not from gathering as much “stuff” as I can, but in loving connections and moments with others, engaging in experiences, and not in stockpiling possessions.

As I skate and chat with a friend, I tell her this is my happiest Christmas I can remember.

She laughs, then stops. I look at her and feel someone’s breath behind me. It is my boyfriend. He got off work. And was told I was here. It is dusk, and the brilliant blue winter sky is now a deep mauve. In the frigid air with the scent of spruce trees and skaters swirling around us, I hug him and he kisses me.

These are moments of my seventeenth Christmas.

Forty-seven years later, they and the epiphany that embraced me that day are still as sharp and clear as icicles.