J., our neighbour for twenty years, kept a house that was a daunting example of cleanliness and thoughtful good taste. J. and I got along well, despite the fact that we were exact opposites. When she and her husband moved from the street, I bought at their yard sale three boxes of apricot-colored glass Christmas balls, a total of 18 ornaments. Every year I think of her as I hang these pretty things around the house. This year half of them decorate our dining-room chandelier, while the others are strung as a little garland under the mantle. When I look at them I remember J. with fondness, but this inevitably leads to my next J. thought: without fail, J. cleaned her house from top to bottom before Christmas.
This is a beautiful idea, in theoryto face the holidays with a fresh, clean living space. But theory and practice don't always meet harmoniously in my psyche. I know I will never have a pre-Christmas window-washing session, or clean out any closets or drawers in honor of the holidays. But seeing all of J.'s apricot-colored balls this year has inspired me to make a tiny little stab at cleanliness and order. Today, as soon as I finish writing this, I will vacuum the whole house, top to bottom. I promise. But no windows.
There are two types of people in my worldthose who delight in Christmas and those who cannot bear it. As usual, unable to make a lasting emotional decision, I manage to embody both of these views, though usually not at the same moment.
We all know the Christmas Enthusiast. This is the person who overfills an already loaded calendar, unable to resist taking on yet another burden as long as it is in the name of Christmas. Host the Christmas dinner? YES! Make the entire dinner, rather than parceling some of it out to willing relatives? YES! All obligations are warmly welcomed, as long as they bear the name of Christmas. That's enthusiasm.
I also know people who fervently hope that the whole season will just disappear. The tinsel and glitter and canned Christmas music (subtext: Buy more! Buy more!) are just too much for them. Sometimes these people can slip under the radar of Christmas and just spend a quiet day contentedly alone. Or perhaps they find happiness by cultivating their Jewish friends and going out for Chinese food and a movie instead of sitting in a family gathering simmering with decades-old tensions.
With all of this in mind, my hope for Christmas, every year, is, "A little balance, please!" I'm not sure how to achieve it, nor can I necessarily visualize just what it looks like. But I'll know it when I find it. It will involve genuine love, a continual re-grounding the moment we find ourselves spinning out of control, and the required amount of deep breathing needed to avoid insulting Aunt Tillie.
At the age of five, my grandson, Sam, came over to play. In his backpack he had a large, solid plastic wolf of ferocious mien, with a snout that opened threateningly and a hunched-over posture (this was an upright, bi-pedal wolf). Its arms dangled to the ground, ending in fully formed fingers with sharp talons. All in all, not a friendly looking wolf. But as he presented him to me, Sam pointed out that the wolf's mouth opened only so that he could drink hot chocolate. And his role in life (all Sam's toys are either good guys or bad guys) was benign. The wolf's long arms reached out not to grab and snatch, but to dispense, from his cupped hands, hot chocolate to all.
May the wolf at your door be the bearer of unlimited hot chocolate.