Under My Childhood Christmas Tree

I think of “beauty” this time of year. I think of the calm and quiet, of the dark, of snow banked against the house, the windows covered with frosty lace, and how as a child I would quietly and carefully move away the parcels from under the Christmas tree to make space for me to crawl under, with my blanket and pillow, a hiding place, the tree aglow, the other lights in the room extinguished, and there … I would dream. (I love a run on sentence).

Those moments of quiet were not occupied with the anticipation of “getting” or even “giving”, but instead some other more profound sensation would descend on me, like freshly falling snow that makes no sound, no sense of touch other than flutters against my face, and I would feel transformed. I can’t really put the experience into words. I don’t have access to descriptors that could or would convey the spiritual dream-like experience of solitude, while feeling surrounded by something more profound than life itself. It sounds dramatic and laden with poetic licence, but I cherished those brief moments, where I didn’t worry, didn’t fret, and gratitude would surround me. I find myself even now conjuring up the list of favourite things that I celebrated while under that childhood tree. The sound of snow beneath my boots, a crunching melody created at a cold enough temperature that no moisture in the snow interfered, leaving instead the pure voice of winter. Choosing a chocolate from a box of assorted flavours and having chosen correctly, the fates aligned to avoid the jellies and creams and instead find a caramel in my mouth, having won the game of choice. The pot of cocoa on the stove, steaming but not boiling, to warm my innards, down to my toes, after a boisterous and exhilarating careening down the snow-covered hill atop a flying saucer, airborne in moments, the crystals of snow stinging my face, the cold invigorating. The tiny oranges wrapped in their crinkling green paper and nestled into the wooden box, oranges that only came at Christmas, that could be peeled in one go, and sectioned off to share, to count, without mess or waste. The sweet taste of shortbread, adorned with red and green candied cherries, the cookies melting in my mouth, vanishing like magic. The chains of red and green construction paper hanging from corner to corner in the living room, the loops of varying sizes that my little hands cut with scissors. The failed attempts at stringing popcorn, never quite getting it right, but being allowed to eat my mistakes. Perry Como crooning from the record player, complete with scratches on the old 78 that never disturbed his story of The Night Before Christmas …

Best of all, the most comforting of all memories, is pressing my face against my father’s chest, while he hummed Silent Night, his heart beating in my ear, my heart beating in time with his, perfectly synchronized as though it was one heart and even now, all these years later as I hold my grandchild against my chest, hoping she/he can hear my father’s heart beating in mine and know him, without words or description, without voice or form, but that he is still here and a little bit of him moves through me to her/him, just a whisper of him that makes me whole.

And as Perry said, year after year, but I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight / happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.

wendistewart@live.ca