Tomorrow I will get to watch two little boys at the family Christmas. With one of them there will be wild excitement, barely disguised if he has an audience. With the other, a little younger, there will be long stretches of wide-eyed wonder. At least I think so. If I use this past Thanksgiving as a gauge, at some point tomorrow I will be ready to take my seat in an armchair and just watch the show. I would not miss it for the world.
Sometimes I watch them watch me. They never do it for long, but four weeks can still invest some mystery around Great Uncle John – so called to distinguish me from “Uncle John,” my nephew in his thirties. The older little boy enjoys screaming with fright when I do my slow-motion approach, predatory and – I like to think – deliciously menacing. The younger boy’s eyes just get wider until he takes the cue from his cousin and scampers to his grandfather’s side.
The opening of gifts. The preparing of the meal in a kitchen steamier than usual. The stolid glow of a Christmas tree that stands aloof and largely forgotten in the corner. All of these elements go into making up a child’s Christmas.
I recall, however, that even as a child I envied the adults’ Christmas. I wanted their sense that they could walk from any room into another and not ask permission. I wanted their freedom to touch any ornament on the tree and read any card on the mantle. I wanted their busyness and their self-appointed stretches of leisure. I wanted the history of preparations – some of them careful and steady, some of them recent and impromptu (maybe even a stop on the drive to Christmas dinner?) – that trailed behind each of the grown-ups holding a cocktail or stirring the green beans and almonds.
At an open house last night not far from where I live, I was singing Christmas carols and hymns with the other guests around a piano. I looked around at the women who had taken time to dress with a little more flair. I watched the men who sang with gusto and precision and those who didn’t. I thought of Judy Garland as we all melted into “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Far from the life of my own parents, I have reached this Christmas of my own. Filled with gratitude for what my mother and my father made sure my brothers and I could recall of trees and lights and ribbons and fruit salad, I am ready to wrap the final gifts this Christmas Eve.