And so December 1st is upon us.
The craft and decor stores have been stocked with red, green and glitter since before Hallowe’en. Santa began making an unprecedentedly early commute to the local malls midway through November. The speakers in the main lobby have been encouraging me to have a Holly Jolly Christmas for over a week and a half.
Now that it’s December, I am no longer obligated to hate them.
Now that it’s December, “humbug” can go back to being a delicious candy instead of a dismissive statement. I can quit frowning at the giant red bows and garlands in shop windows. And Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say.
Now that it’s December, when Nostalgia comes knocking at my door, there will be a wreath on it.
And Nostalgia and I will sit in front of the crackling fireplace channel on TV with our cups of hot cocoa, and remember.
Remember the first Christmas we had our dalmatian Penny, who my mother immortalized in a spectacular oeuvre of digital art as you may recall, and who ran outside into that first winter’s cold with zero understanding of what ice was or how it would cause her to reenact Bambi in our backyard.
Remember the year I woke up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve and saw a glowing red light in the neighbor’s garden, which I would later insist to my mother was Rudolph’s nose.
Remember the first winter after my best friend Katie moved in just across the street and I finally had someone other than my parents or the dogs to play with in the snow.
That was the year our city, which doesn’t really “do” winter – at least, not in comparison to the rest of Canada – got a record five feet of snow over four days.
I was in heaven.
Especially since Katie’s backyard had two things I envied above all others: a hot tub, and a trampoline. Needless to say, we spent that winter doing completely sensible things like jumping out of the hot tub, rolling our bikini-clad selves around in the snow and then jumping back into the hot water, giggling uncontrollably, our skin as red and glowing as a couple of hyperactive lobsters. Or suiting up in our snow pants and puffy jackets, brushing the thin crust of ice off the trampoline, and double-bouncing each other off it into snowdrifts.
We drank endless mugs of hot chocolate, always adding in a handful of snow to cool each mug before we began sipping. It was only frozen water, but we swore it made the chocolate taste richer. It was a magic of our own making. We never questioned it.
That was also the year that the Nintendo 64 came out, and Katie got it for Christmas. When we weren’t out taunting the hypothermia gods or committing snowflake murder with our hot chocolate, we were glued to the TV, our slender fingers wrapped around those ridiculously designed controllers, pitting Mario against obese penguins or crashing spectacularly in Wave Race.
I can’t remember a happier winter. Young and free enough to spend all day in pursuit of fun, old enough to understand what a gift that was. That was the last year I can remember before depression began to take hold in my life. The last Christmas I didn’t have to try.
I live in an apartment now, with a husband and no dogs. There’s no hot tub and certainly no trampoline, no plush staircase to run down on Christmas morning, and I play my carols on an electronic keyboard instead of my parents’ shiny black baby grand. We have three Christmases instead of one, the gifts are almost never a surprise, and I can’t overindulge like I used to without severe penance at the gym in the following days.
I know I have a lot to be grateful for. Winter, with its stark beauty, remains my favorite season. But with each passing year, the holidays feel more like a chore. Which day do we spend with whom? What do we bring? How much should we spend? How many days can I afford to take off work?
As a child, Christmas is a picture postcard of a snowy street filled with scarves and sleds and glowing faces. As an adult, it’s a legal document with some holly stapled to the corner that scratches you every time you turn the page. The Noël Terms of Service.
I do my best to cope. I seek out those all-important little things to keep myself from cracking. But that girl I remember, that home, that naive joy, they’re lost, and I know it.
They are lost, but I am thankful for their memory.
And that I keep my game consoles in good working order.