On Christmas Eve, time hits a warp and bumps me into unexpected glimpses of Christmas past. Taking out the compost after dinner I’m transported to three years ago when the fence was still open to the farm, a path crunchy with fallen leaves worn between our house and Haruka and Jason’s. I squint into the darkness, searching for the soft glow of their porch light, remembering how we’d already have planned, and been cooking towards, a mostly home-grown Christmas meal.
Pulling our fake turkey roast from the freezer I have a sudden longing for winter-less Maui, where I never had to pull on jacket, hat, and gloves to make it to the compost pile. Back then my skin never chapped and my hair occasionally smelled of salt water. Fifteen years ago, we would have been planning a vegan Christmas feast with Pam and Shaun, the folks who showed us how to enjoy not eating animals.
Twenty-three years ago we would have decorated a tree, and wrapped presents would be spilling from its base across the living room floor of an old Colorado farm house. The next day the girls would arrive and fill the house with jewels of laughter. Emily would have been eight, Amy six, and Molly three. That was the last time we set up a tree – the lights, ornaments, bulbs, and painstakingly crayoned paper garlands long gone from our peripatetic lives.
This Christmas morning, I squint into a layer of frost, imagining Nana’s painted plywood reindeer and Santa sleigh racing across her snowy lawn. Fifty years ago my five brothers and I would make Christmas wrapping fly around the living room like a scene from Edward Scissorhands. We would still be living in an old New Jersey neighborhood lousy with kids, there for so long (six years) that we imagined we’d never move again.
In those days Nana was in charge of pulling together the family dinner. We’d head over there after mass to find her stone fireplace flocked with fake snow, more presents underneath her tree for us and our cousins, a turkey in the oven, and pies cooling on racks. Oh, to have a time machine and go back to this idyllic moment!
Back then it was almost always a white Christmas and we kids didn’t hate winter. We burrowed through the drifts to make caves and Dad wowed us by making candy sugar snow cones. We sang carols, there were candles, and no babies ever cried.
Back then everything was perfect. The spirit of Christmas illuminated all our hearts. Peace on Earth reigned. No one languished for want. America was great, no crimes were committed, and all was calm and bright.
Maybe I don’t really want a time machine after all. I’d hate to find out that those times were ordinary times just like these times. I’d hate to find out we were fighting wars and going hungry, that there were people being robbed or raped or killed on one of those stellar Christmases past.
So, forget about that old time machine. Instead I’m going to sit down with the seed catalogs to envision a succulent future. I’ll plan peppers and cantaloupe and maybe even artichokes.
Much love and fond memories for all who have shared Christmas cheer in years gone by!