My Sense of Christmas - A Short Story
My Sense of Christmas
Okay, I must admit that with each passing year, I seem to love Christmas that much more. Just ask my husband, as I start well before Halloween asking Alexa to quietly and discreetly play my favorite Christmas crooner, Johnny Mathis, singing ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’. As November approaches, I ask Alexa to turn up the volume and I am ready to ‘Rock Around the Christmas Tree’ with Brenda Lee. Music makes me relax but Christmas music transforms my senses into a much brighter and happier place.
By mid-November, I pack up Thanksgiving décor and pull out all the stops to deck the halls. My handcrafted wreaths, poinsettias, garland and lights, grace my fireplace, windows, paintings, staircases and more. My kitchen tabletop accented with patterns of holly and berry Christmas dishes and matching flatware reside proudly along aromatic candles that mark the season. Of all the decorations, one that is the ‘Reason for the Season’ is my Nativity that holds the spotlight and is center stage. In addition, I gladly take on the job of climbing the ladder to heights that would cause my husband vertigo, in order to strategically hang the outdoor garland wrapped in red and white Christmas bulbs that complement the multi-colored tree.
When all is done, I light the fireplace, make myself a cup of tea and as I look around, I pretend that I have created my own cozy Christmas Inn. One that even Hallmark would approve of. So, I wonder what motivates this 70-year-old to want to capture the spirit of Christmas. Perhaps it’s not the Christmas’ to come but those of Christmas past…
As a young child, growing up in Yonkers, NY, one of my earliest memories of Christmas was that of my grandmother taking me to the Five and Dime in downtown Getty Square. As December would bring an early dusk, Getty Square would come alive with decorative Christmas lights. I would often catch the scent of roasted chestnuts being sold by vendors at street corners. A walk around the square was as simple as it was magical with people rushing in and out of stores and the excitement of seeing Santa.
As we entered the department store of H. L. Greens, I was overcome with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee mixed with the undeniable scent of buttered popcorn. Even as a five-year-old, I was ‘always drawn to the jewelry counter with a powerful magnetic force that would rival an MRI machine’. Somehow, on this day, I was able to resist the temptation and head to the back of the store to complete my mission…to see Santa. Dressed in red and white and bigger than Life, I found the courage to sit on his lap. A rather shy little girl, I never knew what to say but always left with a coloring book and crayons that left me happy and thankful.
Our journey home would entail waiting for the Broadway bus in front of St. John’s Church. As the cold air nipped away at my nose and toes, I would close my eyes and feel my new flannel Christmas PJs wrapped around my body to keep me warm. Christmas had not yet arrived, but my senses were picking up on the elaborate preparation for its intended visit.
As Christmas was approaching, so was the winter wonderland of snow. What child forgets staying up at night watching the accumulation of softly falling snow and praying for school closure. Walking along a city street at dusk and catching the golden streetlight reflecting off the crusted snow piled high alongside Churches with their elaborate stained-glass windows that glowed a soft light emanating from a warm inner sanctuary and outdoor spotlights that focused on Nativity scenes that would bring to life any Thomas Kinkaid church painting.
In preparation for our celebration, my father would bring us a live Christmas tree up a flight of narrow stairs leaving a trail of pine needles in its wake. The tree always took its assigned place in front of the corner living room window. As the living room radiators clanked and banged from the intended escape of its steam, it would set off the fragrant scent of pine into the room reminding us that there really was a green tree hiding behind all that silver tinsel. Closing my eyes and taking in deep breaths was surely making Christmas come alive.
As we were a Roman Catholic family that immigrated from Italy, we practiced eating fish on Christmas Eve. This would entail a healthy walk down Broadway to the fresh fish market known as Pisacano’s. A very popular place that announced its location by the scent of fresh fish before you entered the front door. Once inside I was taken a back by the selection of fish placed over ice all along the store front counters. Sensing saw dust under my feet and glancing at the blank stare of dead fish looking back at me, left one with the serious business of picking out a selection of fish for this most sacred dinner.
As we readied for Christmas Day dinner, I could smell the homemade tomato sauce cooking on the stove and watching my grandparents putting together stuffed shells with ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. My parents presenting with a large deep white box strategically held and tied with a red and white twine. The delicacies of the Italian bakery of Café Puglia. The aromatic smells of rum and custard escapes from within and my mouth waters as I anticipate these rich Italian pastries that resemble delicate masterpieces with a heavenly taste.
As we would return home from Christmas Mass, we opened our gifts, all the while I would capture the undeniable aroma of Mom’s roast beef slowly cooking in the oven along with crisp roasted potatoes and Italian style green beans. In preparation for dinner, we would dress the dining room table with a white lace tablecloth, accented with red candles and our finest China and crystal.
Amplified throughout the house was the music of my fav Christmas singer, who is crooning his way through ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’. The velvety rich voice emanates from the 33Rpm coveted album manually set on a rotating disk with a rather sensitive armed needle that transforms vinyl to the most eloquent music of Christmas.
As Christmas evening beckons and darkness begins to fall, we would settle down in the living room where our majestic guest has now captured our attention for, we know that her visit with us will be ending all too soon. We watched the classic Christmas Carol. The imagery of Dicken’s ghosts of Christmas remind us of the true spirit of Christmas is indeed the Love that resides in our heart all year through. As the movie comes to an end and my last check for snow ends with a prayer and bed, my head fills my pillow as I close my eyes and surrender my thoughts and senses to all that had made that special Christmas a keepsake for years to come.
Merry Christmas 2022 – Lois Bouchard