I love this time of year.
In my house, everything seems to slow down in December, creating a calm, a stillness, less urgency. There is more lounging on the couch, snug under chenille blankets that feel like rabbit fur. There are holiday movie marathons, while wearing polka dot flannel pajama bottoms and fuzzy slippers. There is sea salt caramel hot cocoa and glasses of heavy red wine. And there are meals that take longer to cook, warm our insides and bring us comfort. Tarragon tomato soup, stuffed cabbage rolls, crusty garlic bread.
December is like a long pause. A deep breath before another year begins and we start all over again. So I try to savor this month as much as I can and take advantage of this “pause.” I will read more, write more, reflect more. I will listen to Joni Mitchell’s “River” about 100 times – and cry 100 times – because it’s the saddest, most heartbreaking Christmas song on this planet, but also the most beautiful. I will not make many commitments or attend too many social engagements. This pause is sacred to me. For now, I just want quiet.
And I want Christmas decorations. Lots of them. Christmas in our new home feels warm and cozy – more so than other places we’ve lived. I wonder why that is? Our new home has inspired me to buy some holiday decor, which is not something I usually do. I’m all about buying ornaments and strands of twinkle lights, but I never was one for buying holiday decor outside of tree trimming. But this year, Christmas feels different. I’m happy and I want the space that I live in to reflect that, so I bought some mini Christmas trees and these adorable little birdies, in other words, simple things that make me happy. Every night, when I turn on all of our Christmas lights and light the candles on our mantle, our house feels . . . magical.
Growing up, I loved when my mother would bring up from our basement giant cardboard boxes filled with Christmas decor. In one day, our entire house would be transformed into a winter wonderland. My mother had red and pine green candles that she only displayed at Christmas and a beautiful white and gold painted ceramic Santa. She put candles in every window and hung on the side of the house a gigantic wreath with white lights, gold ornaments and fake white snow that clung to the branches. And on one Saturday, she’d bake all of her Christmas cookies, filling the house with the scent of buttery cookie dough, toasted walnuts and cloves. Between cartoon breaks, I’d walk into the kitchen to sample her latest batch of cookies, and she’d load them on a paper plate for me to take back to the living room. My mom did Christmas right. I guess that’s where I get it from.
When I became an adult, the holidays brought up mixed feelings for me. I have a tendency to get a little melancholy, especially when I see others spending the holidays with their families. It’s the worst feeling in the world when your family texts you a group photo on Christmas Eve and you’re the only one not there or when your heart aches from just seeing your little nephews in their striped footie pajamas, opening their presents on Christmas day.
Since I moved to North Carolina nine years ago, going “home” hasn’t been an easy option. It’s too far to drive, too expensive to fly and getting enough time off from work has always been a headache. The last time I flew home for Christmas was four years ago during the middle of my divorce. My luggage was lost (and later recovered), my flights were delayed, and, oh yeah, there was that blizzard that cancelled my return flight and left me stranded in New Hampshire for five days. The upside? I got to spend my sister’s birthday with her and bake her a chocolate cake. The downside? The morning after I finally arrived home, I was shivering in bed with a 102 fever. After that trip, I instituted a five-year rotation plan.
This year, however, the five-year plan has been trumped by a longing to be with family. I just can’t spend another Christmas on FaceTime. It will be the first time in four years that our whole family will be together. I cannot wait. No more FaceTime, no more photos texted across the miles, no more lost luggage and flight delays (we’re driving!). Just family – and my sister’s famous chocolate molten lava cakes. What more could I ask for?