What does December mean to you?
And don’t answer in that oh-so-trendy, commercial-versus-religious-holiday argument way. I’m asking:
What does it mean to you?
Is it the gifts? Was it the gifts, but now it’s something different?
What smells, shapes, visuals, tears come to you when you think of the holidays? Who is with you? Who isn’t?
For me, it changes depending on which year I attach to the memory. As a young kid, it was all adrenaline and restless sleep; matching, holly nightgowns; being banished from the living room, overhearing the adults joking and wrapping with us wondering desperately in the wings. It was the fake fir-tree spray on the plasticky, familiar tree that we used every year, and the scraping sounds of nails on cardboard as we struggled with tape, the bitter and then too-sweet taste of mint chocolate bells, the sound of stocking candy scattering on the hardwood floor. It was laughing watching my first dog trying to open a bone in previously-used wrapping paper that I’d mooched from a grown-up. It was the feeling of flying, knowing you’d be safely caught.
Later, it became the warm, gritty taste of my great-grandmother’s carrot bread, the awareness of time passing by, the struggle to become my own valued person instead of a faceless member of the loud tribe at the kids’ table. It was shopping for my own presents the first time and feeling like the properly chosen $5 coffee mug would change the world. Debating, for the first time, which friends to gift gifts to and which to let slide; defining who mattered most and to whom I had to prove it.
Later still, the flavors changed to my own cooking, the absence of others, the reflection and salty sadness at the way things used to be, and the knowledge that I’m creating someone else’s used-to-be as we go. The smiles on my kids’ faces as they open and discover and rejoice in the simple, beautiful material way that is still, somehow, the opposite of greediness. In rougher years, it was even holding my breath at distant relatives’ homes, hoping my kids would remember to smile and appreciate it even when they disliked a gift. They did. It sometimes, as an early parent, was the fear of judgement, then the late-day reminder that my parents must have felt this, too, yet decided to abandon themselves into doing, making, going, being anyway. The tired feet and achy head and tangled hair that follows me from picture to picture, house to house, spreading the obligatory goodwill even when all I really want is a nap. The label of mother and the responsibility to line the childhood shoebox with the most idyllic fabric I can find. They’ll see the pins and duct-tape on the reverse side of the silk and the velvet when it’s their own turn. No need to spoil the surprise.
The joy, when the long day is over, that we’ve done it. We’ve done it. We’ve created a Christmas, and the family is warm and sound. A year has gone, it’s recorded permanently into the family annual, and we’re here, tired, together. There are new people, and many more missing every time, but who’s here matters, and the stories can stay, too.
The knowledge that these, these are the memories.
And we’re making them all the time.
What are yours?