The following dissertation has become my “tradition” each December. Written in 1993, for my newspaper column in the Island Independent; it came to me in a rush of inspiration, whispered by the muse and birthed in a moment of pure emotion. I was invited to recite it with my daughter at a holiday festival that year at the Whidbey Island Theatre, just before Christmas.
Kaeleigh was six, poised beyond her years, beautiful in her forest-and-crimson flowered dress, black patent shoes and ribbon roses in her hair. I wore a claret-colored silk-velvet dress, circa 1910, a treasured souvenir bought in an antique shop outside of London when I was twenty. The stage was frosted in blue light, with a thin scattering of imitation snow; a forest of bare willow branches loomed in the background and George Winston began to play December through the auditorium speakers.
We walked out on stage, hand in hand, my child and I. Kaeleigh climbed up on a wooden box, placed so she could reach the microphone, and we waited a moment before we began, just for effect, just to stand together in that enchanted glittering twilight. I couldn’t see the audience in the darkness beyond the stage, but there was an anticipatory hush, audible and warm as milk; green and red lights winked above the far-shadowed balcony and I remember the smell of my daughter’s freshly washed hair, the curve of her little cheek in the spotlight, the excitement in her eyes.
And that one moment was so full of sweetness and magic, so intensely symbolic of what this time of year is all about, no matter what religion or culture we come from; every once in awhile, for no reason at all, I pull that moment out and hold it, like a jewel in my hand… and especially now, in this most sacred and joyous of seasons. It remains one of my dearest memories, and the following essay remains my favorite offering to the spirit of the passing year. I hope you enjoy it.
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December, again. Is it possible? I could have sworn school just started. And wasn't it only last week that Kaeleigh was wrestling with the gravity of her decision between the fairy princess costume, or the black cat with claws and makeup whiskers? Yet, here I am, starting lists of holiday “have-to's,” flipping through my date book, marking deadlines and meetings and concerts and omigodwhenamIgoingtogoshopping?
And then, suddenly, in the midst of page flipping and phone calling, I am struck by the memory of a bus trip I took in college, over the winter break to visit a friend in Idaho. It was bitter cold outside, but the bus was warm and the engine rumbled and hummed, like a singer in his sleep. I remember, vividly, the images, the colors of the passing landscape, chocolate browns and velvets, earth and ice and steely sky. The trees were simple and bare, stark dancers trailing scarves of wood smoke over the horizon; three white horses ran in a field along the fence line beside us. And at dusk, stopped at a traffic light in some in-between, sleepy little town, I remember a small cafe' window, aglow with a string of twinkling faerie lights, and a sign that read, “Peace On Earth”. . .
December isn't an appointment in a date book. It isn't a calendar line, or a string of juggled obligations. It is a landscape, an experience steeped in color and sound and history. It is the fragrance of sugar cookies and cedar, the way the air tastes when the sky is so cold you're certain it will snow at any minute. It is red and green and tinsel colored, but it’s also purple, the color of plum wine; gold ribbon and silver stars on midnight blue paper. There are jolly elves and flying reindeer and singing snowmen; but there is also the longest night of the year, and the slow, quiet turning of the Earth towards spring.
December is the light of seven candles through a lace curtain, families holding hands around a dinner table, and a bell ringing for the hungry and the homeless. It is a time of magic and wishes; it is the power of love and the possibility of angels. And it is the face of every newborn child, bright with the fire of hope in their eyes, that we all might come together one starlit night, and realize a miracle.
Blessings to all of you, this wonder-filled, magical season, and may all your wishes come true.