In my dream, it is December 24th, the clock inching toward 4 pm. I haven’t purchased a single gift. I no longer live in Ottawa, but am suddenly back in my tiny home town; the little strip mall is completely closed, and the only store left open is Woolco. Not even Walmart, Woolco (yes, in my dream it is 1984, but really it is this year, every year). In my dream, I’m berating myself for leaving everything to the last minute; I’m searching the empty shelves for anything that might be right for my 13-year-old nephew, or my sister’s latest live-in boyfriend. My dad! What the hell can I get my Dad? Panic sets in, and I’m not smart enough (in my dream) to recognize that my family would be far happier if I just came home and spent the afternoon with them, instead of driving myself crazy in the local discount store.
I know it’s a good Christmas if I don’t have the dream.
* * * * * *
Some of my best Christmases were, oddly, those before house and husband and children, when I was living alone in Victoria. I revelled in the season, even if I didn’t do a whole lot of actual revelling. No snow, no bouncing babies or sugarplum dreams, and yet I remember truly noticing the Christmas spirit, and being grateful, happy. I remember shopping, cheerfully, and tsk-tsking those who seemed to be doing the whole thing begrudgingly. If you hate it, I thought, don’t do it. I’d go out of my way to help people, to smile, wish happy holidays, give up a parking spot or hold a door. I did it with joy in my heart and a hope that I might be contagious.
Those years, I would decorate my little tree in my little apartment, placing every string of beads and every bauble in exactly the right place. I would spend hours listening to carols or watching Jimmy Stewart while I painstakingly wrapped each gift in beautiful paper, added ribbons and bows and hand-made tags. I would place the gifts under my tree in anticipation of the giving, a coincidental decoration, and they would shine.
It was years ago, but it stands out for me as the ideal to which I have aspired every year since.
It’s been tough these last few years. Working full-time; trying to keep the house clean, let alone decorated, trying to dig out from the truck-load of Christmas letters and projects and pictures that come home from school every day. Getting to the school concerts, the daycare concerts, buying presents to come from this Santa, that Santa, or to give to this teacher, that daycare provider. Juggling in-laws and outlaws and then ohmygod why is my kid sick today??! It is all we can do to keep our heads above water, and if we remember to breathe while we’re doing it, we consider the year a success. If the spirit is lacking or the tempers are flaring, we tend to give ourselves a break.
But this year? This year, I think I found it. This year, the kids are in it and loving it. I got my shopping done early enough that now I can just wrap up a few details and try to enjoy myself, like I did so many years ago. This year, we decorated. We baked. With the children. This year, I’ve been reminding myself to slow down and I’m walking with eyes wide open, taking in as much of the season as I can.
It’s not a perfect replica of the days when I had all the time in the world to foster the spirit of the season, but it’s close, and it gives me great hope, and great pleasure, to know that it can only get better from here.