I AWOKE THIS MORNING to a heavy mist outside my window. This is not what Bing Crosby imagined in the song "White Christmas." Personally, I was a little disappointed I would not be making my morning commute. The air temperature and humidity were just right to engender a thick, swirling, mysterious fog over the wetlands through which both my train and bus routes pass. If there were more snow on the ground, the Meadowlands and most golf courses in the area (which my train also passes) would be transformed into the sort of tableaux from which I could easily imagine mailed warriors to ride forth on battle-crazed steeds, the clash of armor and the thudding of hoofbeats driving them to a blood frenzy. In grim reality, all I would probably see is a couple of intrepid atheists hitting the links, and a lone Department of the Interior employee floating in a canoe somewhere in the swampy confines of Secaucus to test the waters for PCBs.
Have I mentioned how much I hate reality?
Christmas was a calm holiday for me. I live very close to my parents, so I had a short commute compared to those who have to traverse states or time zones to see their loved ones. I sometimes feel a little guilty, because my folks — both long retired and now nearing or in their 70s — don't explicitly need anything, so it's tough to get them to give any sort of signal on what I can get them for Christmas. Plus they hate to see me spend money on them to begin with. I've tried unsuccessfully for the past three years to take them out for their anniversary, even on their 40th. I am thankful that they are happy with a simple life, however.
Our Christmases are small affairs, not as formal as in past years. We are no longer religious. Our closest relatives are dead. What remaining family we do have is distant physically and/or emotionally. I am single. It has occurred to me over the past few years that my being there seems to be the best present my parents could receive. Their other needs are managed or manageable. Personally, I find the idea of having to travel further than a state line to return to my parents unthinkable. I've always been here, except for the necessary separation of college, which was overcome with a bus ticket. Were I not in attendance, I doubt they would actually decorate the house. It is a humbling thought, but a heartwarming one, to know that I play such a role in their holiday plans.
I've had up Christmases and down ones, but of late I have tried to be aware of the fact that this holiday has powerful magic for many people, deep beneath the one-day sales and shiny wrapping paper and bows and credit card debt. Not just the experience of religious renewal for Christians celebrating the birth of their Messiah. It's always someone's first Christmas, whether literally as an infant, or as a slightly older child just putting together his or her first memories of this holiday, or for a couple who just met that year, or who are spending their first married Yule together, or even — more tragically — for someone enduring a first Christmas without a parent, a spouse, or a child. These are all delicate, formative experiences. My relation to the holiday may have changed, and I may not partake in all of its trappings, but it will be precious to someone, and I will do my best to treat it as such.
I hope all of you have added to your stores of delightful and loving holiday memories this Christmas, and that the bright gift of a new year is one you ardently seek to unwrap a short week from today.