The traffic was just heavy enough to put me into a mood. There were errands to run and chores to do and this Christmas Eve we finally had accepted a long-standing invitation from our friends Joe and Lori to attend their family's Christmas Eve. I had always demurred in years past, knowing that each year Joe would ask what we were doing that night and knowing that I would say that we were just going to huddle in our quiet, make ready for the Day and go to bed early.
Sherry says I get peevish around Christmas and she's right, of course, especially in the last two years. It hasn't been an easy couple of years, and I indulge in a little poorly-placed self-pity. Life is not bad at all, just not what I want. Or so I think. Trouble is, I don't often know what I want so I decide that I'm not getting what I deserve. It's a useless and childish attitude, and one I resolve to expunge every year. I am, after all, my father's son.
When I was young, our house was filled with people and activity and I thought that in all the right ways, we were the Waltons. As the family grew up and apart, Christmases became smaller and I missed, still miss, the slightly-frenzied approach of too much family. When Sherry and I moved in together, we had my mother and my brother Ken to ourselves, while my other brother Doug and his wife were the ones who called in the afternoon. Now it's my turn. Caitlin will come over from her mom's place and this year we are making an authentic tagine in honor of her recent trip and in contraindication to the turkey lobby. There is the traditional chicken soup first, and my mother's pastries that arrived the other day.
It will be a small Christmas, but it will not be quiet. Caitlin arrived from London filled with talk and we have found ourselves at no loss for words. There will be family here, and those from whom we are separated will linger through the distance. It will be good.
I think that Joe was a little taken aback when I said yes this year. But when we got to their house last night, we walked into the cheering embrace of friendship. There were a whole lot of Italians, I have to tell you. And the welcome we received was matched only by the food we ate. Pasta perfectly done followed an array of appetizers and preceded a feast of the sea: baccala, shrimp, calamari, crab, lobster, on and on, all lubricated with jollity and the gold glow of peaceful anticipation.
Joe does all the cooking and Lori the orchestrating. It is a wonder of well-placed love that takes days to prepare. Into all this, we could have been a long-lost pair of cousins no one knew they had.
Don't get me wrong. The food was fantastic. The people, though, were the feast. It is a rare thing to have a friend such as Joe. This is a good, fine man who is calm in his demeanor, whose quiet actions speak loudly. It is right to relish such a friend. Thanks, Joe.
We wanted to stay longer, but there was some cooking for us to do; we had gotten behind in our tasks for various reason that don't at all matter, but we knew that we wouldn't be getting to bed until after midnight.
It has been a while since I was up that late on Christmas Eve, and it felt so good. As we worked, we had some coffee and stole a few cookies. We finished, then cleaned up and crawled into our warm bed.
This is the thing: We make Christmas where we are and with whom we have. If we are lucky, we can make the Big Christmas from time to time, and sometimes, well, Christmas just seems to make things worse. But it's not Christmas' fault, after all. Aside form the religious aspects, Christmas serves as a reminder that family and friends aren't necessarily a birthright and should be cherished while they are around.
This year we have Christmas and Hanukkah smacked up against each other, with not a breath between. So what? Tree and Menorah will be lighted together this next week and we will savor the days between now and the end of the year. Caitlin returns to London in a few days, and I can just about guarantee that when she leaves, I will be back here crying in my blog that she is gone again. And that is as it should be. And will always be.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, everyone. Mom, Ken, Doug and Denni and the kids, Joe and Lori and their own, my family and Sherry's, my beautiful child and her other family, all my blog friends and loyal readers. May you find solace and joy and warmth in this season and may it carry you through the long Winter ahead and all the year.