I find myself whispering the words remember when during these dwindling days of December and every story is from Christmas moments of my childhood and of my children’s childhood. The stories warm me, melt the worrying, calm the anxiety, and quiet the longing. Memories are a bit like building a quilt. We take the most colourful pieces, the ones with the soft edges, the fabric smooth, and then we stitch them together into a whole, to wrap around us on cold nights. The colours blend, one into the other, and I sometimes forget whose eyes I am looking out from.

Many of the stories include laughter, such as the year I was recording a Christmas tape for my mother with my girls singing Let It Snow. Samantha sang out heartily, her head back, her hands on her hips, pronouncing it Lat It Snow, and right on key she adjusted the lyrics to announce she needed a drink of water. When we paused, she asked if my mother was still alive to receive these Christmas greetings. Her question was a sincere one and she wasn’t trying to be funny or rude, but I laughed right out loud. “Mantha” was an adorably odd little soul. She still is. Thank goodness.

There was the Christmas that all four girls fit into one bed, all dressed in their fresh soft jammies, their long hair braided. I’m not sure how much sleep happened but listening to the whispers and giggles was the best gift of all. I can still hear the sound in my head. I can call it up on demand, close my eyes and I am transported. There were no disagreements or arguments during this special time. That’s the thing about Christmas, we create our own traditions, our own pattern of doing things, that naturally evolved or were handed down – a certain breakfast, a movie, games, tobogganing in pajamas, big family gatherings or small cloistered ones, tree put up early or right at Christmas. It is not the details but rather the emotion these preparations and traditions evoke.

I cling most tightly to the days of my own childhood, when my sister and I whispered of hearing reindeer hooves on the roof above us, our beds pushed together, a flashlight under the covers with a book. Or Santa opening our bedroom door and peering in to be sure we were sleeping soundly, which we weren’t. The silhouette looked a lot like Santa, though his height was in the range of my dad’s. Am I as certain now it was Santa as I was then? Maybe not, but it makes no difference. The moment is sealed in my mind. The memories circle round and round, some details clear and precise, while others are fuzzy. The warmth of thankfulness and the privilege of the peaceful calm still lies soft against my skin.

What about this Christmas? What treasures will be added to the memory quilt? I am in British Columbia this year. My daughter and grandson have just succumbed to Covid, having bravely fought it off all these months. They are sick, but so far, their symptoms can be labelled as moderate. I hope that continues. Cedar, the family dog, has abandoned them in their hour of need and decided he’d rather share my bed, taking the entire foot of the bed so that I can’t stretch out my legs. You’d think I’d just give him the big heave-ho, but … it’s Christmas and I can’t bring myself to do it.

This Christmas Eve we will follow the tradition from Iceland and snuggle under blankets with a warm cup of hot chocolate and read our new books. It is called Jolabokaflod and I have no idea how to pronounce it, but it translates to Christmas book flood. I love the simplicity of the idea, the journey into the imagination of fiction or the truth of non-fiction, the exchange of books at Christmas to be read deep into the night. We will keep the lights low, just bright enough to read by. Cedar, the dog, will lie between us, reminding us that he is profoundly loyal to his service of love and protection, barking every now and then just to annoy me. All will be well and as I settle off to sleep, I will pretend my four little girls are tucked in around me. I wish you all the gentleness and warmth of this season, the longest night of the year to wrap itself around you with hope, love, joy, and peace.