'Tis the season, when parties and programs and concerts and cookies throw us all into a tizzy, upsetting schedules and stressing us out. Weather delays and forgotten white elephants. Double-booked? No, triple. Too much paper sent home from school. Children OD on candy canes.
Dress pants are suddenly too short, head colds come out of nowhere, zippers bust and scarves go check out the Lost & Found on their own. Holiday specials play on TV but no one is home to watch them. Plans C, D, and E march into place after the Normal Rockwell Plan A and slightly-more-realistic-Plan-B go up in glorious flames.
Bite off more fruitcake than one can chew and Christmas has an aftertaste like mittens, still soggy the next morning. A secret hums behind many holiday smiles... "I just want it to be over."
And then, with her nine-year-old at the baby grand in the sudden hush of a darkened auditorium, mid the smothered coughs and rustling of restless toddlers in their itchy holiday finest, the pure, sweet notes of an ancient carol spring to life and soar out over the space, filling every corner of the building with joy and a mother's heart bursts and she thinks, oh! this is it. Now it's Christmas.
Later in the day two parents look at each other in triumph because they are pretty sure an actual note came out of the horn at the right moment at least twice. The horn has been a source of angst, the child practically paralyzed with loathing. Eleven years old and discovering just how close to the line he can walk in those man-sized shoes. The holidays mean public performances and a necktie, miserable things both of them. Too cool for Christmas but not too old to twinkle when he thinks about what might reside in his stocking.
This is it, our Christmas. It is does not resemble Norman Rockwell, or Martha Stewart, or Garrison Keillor or anyone else's; it is uniquely our own. Shaped every year by forces we do and do not control: the weather, our health, family traditions, the school, our church, the recipe box, the business travel, our finances. Some years it's fancy, other years it's quiet. Sometimes we see it afar off and run to greet it, and other times it takes us by surprise mid-December and we look up and say oh! this is it.
Now it's Christmas.