You know that old record where John Denver sings christmas carols with the muppets? I like that record.
It reminds me of "those yonder good old days" when I didn't understand nostalgia. When I thought that the Grinch really DID give Cindy-Lue Hoo a drink of water before she went to bed. When the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in the whole world was a six foot tree in the living room, wilting under the weight and heat of those "don't touch them or you'll die" giant christmas bulbs.
I loved that. The colors dazzled my soft little brains and I could think of nothing, NOTHING, but of the happy miracle to come... that was the presents, by the way. The whole miracle-baby story was utterly lost on me until well into my teens. For me it was more like, "that Jesus is so lucky to have his birthday on Christmas!" you know? And, as much as I hated walking up the street in the icy weather, in the dark, to a cold building that smelled of peppermint and chanel no 5, I really REALLY loved the candle light service.
Singing silent night in an ancient wooden church, surrounded by the people in your community... what an amazing ritual that was. And even though most of the booky-book business was still lost on me, I knew that as soon as the lights in the church went down, and that magical flame got passed from candle to candle, and we all inhaled to sing the notes of the most familiar song in the northern hemisphere... something really important was happening. That singular ritual was quite a highlight for me. The tedium of waiting for it, the itchy clothes and the boring speeches both pre and post all paled in comparison to watching with my whole soul as the wick on my perfect little white candle caught the flame and started glowing red.
It smelled like magic. The air immediately tasted differently. Heat fluttered up from the flame and melting wax crept down the candlestick toward the useless paper circle and my tender, icy fingers. Even the burns from the melted wax were part of the ritual. Older kids dripped it on eachother when their parents weren't looking, younger kids trembled in terror as they awaited their first, innaugural burns. I sang in the candle-lit darkness between my parents and stared at that one teeny flame with all my heart.
It was like maybe, just maybe, if I believed hard enough, the whole world would finally turn around and hug me and say something really comforting and everything would change for the better.
It never really did, and to be fair it never really needed to.
After the service, we'd trot excitedly back down the road and with numb fingers we'd pour into the house for presents time. Dad would stoke the fire until it was roaring (to wit, a few memorable chimney fires were born of this tradition). The house was filled with reds and golds and piney-smokey smells and probably lingering scents of roast potatoes and beef juice. And Yorkshire pudding.
We all know what happens next, the frenzy, the laughter, the Woo and the ahh!
And every year, the moments leading up to the Woo were so much more magical than the Woo itself. The ceremony that it took to get to presents time seemed, even then, to be so much more important than the presents. Which, duh, it was... but it wasn't about God and Jesus, even then. Not for me. Sure, they were there, but for me, there was something else in it.
Now, those moments are bereft of churches and psalms and plastic baby jesusses glowing from within a halo of red-foiled poinsettia plants. I'm grown up, by most standards. Trees come in the easily manageable 3 foot size or not at all (not at all this year, I'm afraid). I'm kindof amazed to admit that we've downsized christmas... and I'm pretty okay with that. The downsizing doesn't really matter. Now it's not my own WOO that I'm waiting for. It's the WOO of family eating a delicious meal together and sharing silly stories from the year. It's the WOO of waking up in a chilly, humid guest room and knowing that not ten paces away is a house full of welcoming hearts and warm smiles and undiscovered happy memories. (with fruit! and caramel sauce! and giant pecans!)
Today, happy heathen that I am, I don't have to trudge to the middle of a century-old wooden building to stare at the flame and feel the magic, and I don't have to risk the safety of my entire apartment building with a strand of lights that would consume more energy in one hour than my computer does all day.
I'm proud to say that I have that magic with me all the time now - even when I'm grumptastically, sucktastically, frumptasctically revolting. That feeling is always more intense around my family ( my whole family ) but it's always there no matter what.
So while this sounds like the kind of entry that says "oh dear, christmas for grownups ist das lameness" it's more about how I remember feeling the first thrills of proper magic in my veins. I'm so glad I got to discover part of that in a church and part of that staring up at the impossible colorful tree in the living room. And I'm so, so glad that I don't have to have a church now to hold on to that.
Also I'm pleased that holiday light technology has improved too!