Christmas is an interesting time of year for me. I was raised with Santa and presents (some years more bountiful than others as a child of a single mom), but our religious views were rooted in earthy spiritual beliefs: sort of “Pagan Lite”. Every winter, my mom and I spent time walking near rivers, looking for animals and spirits and came home to light candles, burn sage and take joy in warm blankets, dogs and cats. I had no doubt that magic existed, and reasoned early on that everyone’s “baby Jesus talk” and the distant rumblings I heard about Chanukah and other winter holidays were all dialects of the same mystical language. I saw my dad’s family near Christmas, too, and marveled at Gramma Hazel’s antique, amazingly well preserved glass ornaments and somber manger scene. The crisp cleanliness of their home and Grandpa’s red sweater stick out in my memory along with the one seamless wintertime characteristic of both families’ homes: BOOKS.
My Nana’s cookbook, Nate’s golf magazines, Hazel’s coffee table books and small stacks of bookmarked novels dotted surfaces in all of my Christmastime environments. Kids’ books remained hidden for the most part, but my brother and I eagerly thumbed through science fiction, comics (so many comics, especially Peanuts, who will always be “Christmas” to me because of it), National Geographic Magazine and worn-down versions of classics. For every minute of rowdy, musical time (another feature of my mom’s winter rituals), my immediate family spent a half hour in proximity to each other, reading. In this respect, all stories are Christmas stories to me. Oddly, my favorite Christmas story is one that I have never physically held, and until this blog assignment, hadn’t actually beheld with my own two, literacy-hungry eyes.
Each Christmas Eve, Seattle radio station “The Mountain” broadcasts an old recording of Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” at 10pm. As a young child, I remember listening to the station and begging to stay up to hear it, a desire greatly at odds with my cousins’ desire to get to sleep “as soon as possible” to hasten Christmas morning. I feel asleep to it for a few years, the tinny speakers of my radio turned down low so as not to penetrate through the sheet that hung as a “wall” between my cousins’ beds and mine. I remember the voice, complete with scratchy analog noise, a part of candle lit present wrapping and pie making with my mom as I grew older. Mr. Thomas’ accent and drama left little more than an impression at first: snow (a wondered-at commodity in grey Washington), family, the freedom of being a boy in a simpler time. Later, I thought hard about what holidays would be like if children wanted, above all things, the best dog whistle in the neighborhood or if we were so separate from adults as to know of “the Aunts” and “the Uncles” as largely nameless punctuation to an exciting day.“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” is really a poem recorded by Thomas in 1952, though it has been published many times in book format since then (thanks, Wikipedia!). Humor, timeless similes and wistful descriptive phrases entwine under joy and delicious, “old timey” word choice to create an emotional impression of Christmas. There is no Santa, no church and no tree, and the focus on what was important for a child and the raucousness of family gathering reflect my own winter nostalgia. For me, it brings tears without sadness, and that, I think, encapsulates the magic of Christmas best of all.
And, in case you haven't read it, here is a link to A Child's Christmas in Wales.
Thank you, Britta!