Member Rara Avis
It's almost hard to believe the day has arrived (and, for some, already passed). I guess at certain times in one's life, Christmas can be sneaky that way. Perhaps it's the price paid for early preparation.
My return to Michigan three years ago changed many things for me, Christmas being just one. In California, this was always a very busy, very hectic month for me. The early weeks of December were spent preparing for my company's office party, an affair into which I invested a lot of myself. That investment was always amply repaid by heightened spirits and an almost childish delight in surprising my people with something new every year. Shopping for other friends and family was inevitably delayed until at least the 23rd and, too many years, right up until the 24th, resulting in frantic dashes through the many malls, torn between hurrying and finding just the "right" gift. For at least fifteen years, I promised myself next year would be different, next year I would begin earlier. And, instead, every year found me rising before the sun on Christmas morning, knowing I had several hours of wrapping before making the rounds to family and special friends.
Christmas didn't sneak up on me in California. It wrestled me to the mat, pinned my shoulders, and always left me laughing in amazement at its unending vitality.
Retirement ended the office parties, and Michigan ended my shopping procrastination. My first year here, I discovered the cost of waiting until the last minute was a frozen tush and, except for a few last minute items, most of my shopping was finished in September this year, then relegated to an unused closet to await wrapping. November and December passed quickly, and I was content in the knowledge I was - for the first time in decades - organized and prepared. Unfortunately, in the last few days, I've discovered even that carries with it a price. It just doesn't feel like Christmas without the hectic, last-minute rush.
You know what the best thing is about shopping on Christmas Eve? Everyone is happy. In spite of the crowds, in spite of the traffic, in spite of the heavy fear in your gut that you won't find everything before the stores close, there is an almost palpable sense of joy in everyone who crosses your path that night. Christmas cheer is infectious, I think, spreading with every smile and laugh. People who would typically cut you off on the freeway instead sit patiently in parking lots, nodding to you to go through the crowded intersection first. Harried store clerks rush to keep the lines moving and the customers happy, not just because it's their jobs, but because it's Christmas. And each of those lines you stand in is another opportunity to laughingly share shopping-horror-stories with a stranger you would probably ignore any other day of the year. By the time the stores close, you are exhausted. And completely, utterly exhilarated.
I know, in the next few years, new traditions will arise in my life to replace the old. If shopping in September is blasť, perhaps it will leave me more time for other, perhaps more spiritual, endeavors. Life changes. And it doesn't take the wisdom of Solomon to know we, too, must change.
Yet, even amidst the changes, there are some things that remain the same.
With fewer people to visit this year, I felt no need to rise with the sun, but I nonetheless have a whole closet full of gifts yet to wrap. I suspect I'll find a few things, stuffed into corners, I've completely forgotten. And as I wrap each gift for each special person in my life, I know I will smile with the anticipation of their smile when they unwrap it. That, at least, need never change.
I will spend most of my day with family, albeit a different sister than in California, and after a Christmas dinner cooked just the way my mother would have cooked it, I'll stop and visit a few special people before returning home. Christmas, after all, is just another way to say "I love you, I appreciate you," and that too need never change.
And when I finally return home tonight, probably tired, undoubtedly cold, I will log into Passions. In California I had scores of friends spread across three counties, a handful in nearby states, and family residing throughout the United States. Today, my friends and family encompass an entire world. They are spending their Christmas in Massachusetts to the East, Arizona and California to the West, Florida to the South, even Canada to the North (and there ain't much else north of me), and just about every other place on this continent between those distant points. Some are close, right here in Michigan or dotted throughout the Midwest, while others are much, much farther away. They are in England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Singapore, Korea, and other countries I would need to look up on a map. Some few I've met, some few I've yet to meet, and so many I will never see face to face. They are every bit as important to me, every bit as real, as those friends I left in California. Though spread across an entire globe, they are a part of me. And just as in years past, they are the ones to whom I want to say "I love you, I appreciate you, I wish you a Merry Christmas."
And they, of course, are you.