Set aside for a moment your wait for Covid vaccine, anxiety about the future, job security, and world peace, and let’s talk about the holidays.
My vote for the best time of year are the two weeks leading up to Christmas. Especially this year, when we’ll be alone for our holiday feast, the festivities have all taken place in anticipation of Christmas. By the time the big day arrives, we’ll have had most of the fun.
About three weeks before Christmas, I found an artificial tree, wreaths and other holiday decorations stored in a closet, and decided to put together a Zoom nook with everything together in a tiny upstairs space. The tree is actually very narrow, and it makes a cheerful background. I enjoyed arranging it.
Two weeks before Christmas, I started making cookies, using a recipe that looked good on line and claimed to make gingerbread men that hold their shape. It worked well, and my first batches looked good. I needed a few more, once I decided that in addition to the cookie exchange with my daughters (in lieu of gifts), I wanted to send gingerbread to my family members around the country. I tried a different recipe for the next batch, and stirred it up according to the recipe, but then realized that after I added the 5 cups of flour required, I’d have a lot of gingerbread men. For the rest of the week, I had trays of gingerbread men on almost every table.
I took my time with decorating, and finally decided I was finished when there wasn’t much of a blank spot anywhere. Every time I walked by my trays of cookies, I’d stop and have a look, grab my tube of royal icing from the fridge, and draw in a few more fingers, toes, buttons, or other details. I realized that if I didn’t stop, the icing wouldn’t harden and I couldn’t wrap and ship them all.
In the midst of my cookie baking, we took time to watch the gorgeous sunset over Asilomar Beach, and we stayed until the sky darkened enough for us to see Jupiter and Saturn close to each other over the darkening southwest horizon. They are just two dots in our binoculars, but I am humbled to think that this particular combination hasn’t been in our sky since the 1200s. I am looking at a version of the heavens that some medieval ancestor also saw on a winter solstice long ago.
One week before Christmas, I put my finished boxes of cookies in the mail. I had a lot of fun making them, and I think my family will enjoy eating them. Not long after that packages started rolling in, mostly cookies, and even a few gifts (We don’t exchange gifts any more). The doorbell rang the other night (a very rare occurrence, especially after dark), and there was a young man holding a bottle of wine and a note. “There’s no name,” he said. “It just says it’s from Wine Santa. Someone sent you a very nice bottle of wine.” I believe he was one of Santa’s elves and that he was wearing a dark raincoat over his bright green fur-trimmed outfit.
With all this good will landing on the doorstep, every day is happier than the last, as I wonder what will arrive next. Real holiday cards arrive in our little-used mailbox, and we all know that mail we are happy to receive is becoming a rare phenomenon. Holiday cards (paper or digital) are a way to catch up with friends and family, whether we chat frequently or whether Christmas is our annual moment of communication.
By the time Christmas day arrives, I will have eaten lots of cookies and candy, and will be resting on my laurels for having send my packets of gingerbread men out into the world, followed by my electronic holiday greetings. We’ll have a delicious dinner featuring Jonathan’s Christmas ham, and ending with my trifle, but for me, the fun is in the anticipation of surprises, surprise communications from friends, surprise at the wonderful and delicious cookies our exchange has produced, and happiness at the warmth of friendship that doesn’t depend on physical presence. Maybe next year we can catch up on the hugs we are missing this time.