And if you hear Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof while you read this, that's okay. I do.
Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I watch Fiddler on the Roof. You can add Love Actually to that list too, even if I just watched it with my Mom this summer and again running on TV around Thanksgiving. A Charlie Brown Christmas CD goes in the player, along with Joan Baez's beautiful Noel CD. The Messiah, assorted Christmas carols and such all come out to fill the house with the sounds of the season. Tradition.
Certain books come out too. Every year I treat myself to a book that catches my fancy and speaks to me of the wonder or whimsy of the season. Often children's books with pictures or stories so beautiful in simplicity it makes you want to laugh and cry. This
is only a small sampling of the books gathered over the years and this years pick is Don Quixote retold by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Chris Riddell. Tradition.
Then there is the tree at Christmas and for me, one of the most enchanted of rituals.
When I was very small and Santa was on top of my ten best people list, we would all go to my Grandparents in PA for the holidays. Company would come in and out Christmas eve for treats, singing, cheer and reading until about 9:00 o'clock when I would be sent to bed. After I was tucked in, the tree came from where ever it was hidden, large and fresh and parents and grandparents set about trimming it. Lights, glass beads, ornaments so beautiful and delicate that one would think they would break if you stared at them too hard. Tinsel, garlands and the most beautiful tree skirt. It all was put together by the hands of elves and then the presents laid around in what seemed to be ever increasing circles as Santa unloaded a good portion of his sled.
At some point, my Grandfather, (who only drank at Christmas) would go outside and climb a pre-prepared ladder, fueled no doubt by Rock & Rye, and stomp on the top of the often snowy two story roof, a muffled Ho ho ho could be heard by sharp little ears waiting for reindeer. I'm sure I heard those tiny hooves though....
The morning was magical. There before me,where only a wing chair had been the night before, was tree and gifts, shimmering with expectation and stunning in all it's richness. The smells of cookies, and cakes and turkeys wafted in with their promise of delights for later in the day. The evening always found me on my Grandfather's ample lap, clutching the favored portable toy, wrapped in a blanket, lulled to sleep against his chest as he talked about things of no concern to me. The family has always trimmed the tree on Christmas Eve and it remains so today. Tradition
There is one other thing we always do at Christmas,and this is never compromised. Between tree trimmings, Christmas Day dinner prep, friends dropping by or scooting to them, midnight mass to hear my mother sing, and the almost expected run to the grocery for yet more cream or butter, we gather and read. Or in my case, at the start of this, was to be read to. From the beginning of my time, my father has ushered whoever was around on Christmas eve, (before mass and after dinner preps), in front of the fireplace with book in hand to read us A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.
Every year I was transported to Wales, to eat candy cigarettes, to imagine he-hippos, fur trappers, polar cats and men with spats of snow. The line "Would you like anything to read?" would become code in my family and always bring a smile. To this day, on Christmas Eve, I too read to whoever might be here, sometimes just Gene and I and the animals.
A dog almost always in my lap, the cat by the fireplace, the tree glittering and the spirit of all those no longer whinnying with us filling the room as we take our annual passage to a Wales not of this time and space. Tradition.