I was sitting in a doctor’s office when the background muzak suddenly shifted to a soft piano version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” My eyes filled, and for a moment I was so emotional I couldn’t speak. What is it about Christmas that is just so damned heart-breaking?
This is a nutty time of year. We’re racing around trying to fit it all in. Shopping, visiting, partying, praying – trying to find sense in the season. I’ve been exhausted this week, working round the clock with The Big Paper on a news story that will yield benefits for months. I love when that happens and go full tilt. But then one day turns into tomorrow and then a week is gone. Then four weeks. You can’t afford to lose your grip this time of year. Especially not with young kids.
When I heard the song that is such a basic part of my history I thought of my parents and Christmases gone by – the whirlwind of church obligations, holiday preparations, and fantastic parties with dozens upon dozens of friends.
I loved a full house as Christmas drew close, all crowded in, in sparkly, festive finery, to raise a glass, kiss a cheek, and look to the New Year. On Christmas Eve we moved to a friend’s house for a massive, elegant gathering that lasted until the frozen wee hours when we wrapped up in long coats and scarves and made our way home to open presents, then Mass in the morning if we could open our eyes.
One year, my middle sister got so “happy” at the party she opened a gift and held a black turtleneck my mother gave her upside-down, laughing uproariously as she thanked Santa for the bathing suit. Another year I put on everything I received until I was swaddled in three layers of clothes from pjs and socks to coat, mittens, and hat. I smile when I see the picture today.
I remember my dad struggling with the big bulb lights as he put up the tree, swearing like a sailor when he smashed some, or when others wouldn’t light. He’d be all smiles on Christmas Eve, though, as my mother, a musician, breezed in late from a church performance and would be apologetic as she handed out presents half-wrapped.
My dad’s been gone 16 years now; my mom for two. My oldest sister left us on the winter equinox in 2003 and we sent her home to God that Christmas Eve. My brother has moved west, one sister is in New York, and another and I, and our extended families, are all that’s left here in Massachusetts.
When I think of Christmas I see my husband and kids and memories we have made these last almost 22 years. But when I hear the music it takes me back to when I was young and hopeful for the life that stretched out so far in front of me, knowing that everything was possible and we’d all live forever. No wonder it brings tears.