Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Still Whispering In The Dark

We often think of the traditions in our lives as ritual repetitions, these touchstones that recur each year or month or week, usually shared with others, filled with significance beyond the motions through which we go, made so by their repetition.

Like most children, I arose early on Christmas morning. My brother and I were allowed to look, but not touch before the rest of the family awoke, and we would meet there in the living room, in the dark, whispering about the things we saw poking from our stockings. Obviously, we don't do that any more. I don't remember when we stopped, although I know why: we outgrew Santa. But though that was the reason, I know we didn't stop these Christmas morning meetings all at once, continuing to whisper in the dark, I think, until we were almost teenagers, easing ourselves gently toward our new roles as the makers of the magic.

This morning, my family will travel across Lake Washington to spend the day with my parents, with whom I've celebrated all but two of my 51 Christmases. My brother and his family will be there. We'll likely remind each other, probably only in a few words, of the miraculous appearance of our electric train set. We'd been down there, in the dark, whispering for at least an hour, but hadn't seen it right there on the floor, fully assembled, plugged in, and ready to go, invisible until the lights came on. Santa was real! Santa was magic! We still can't explain it. It's not the samenesses from year to year we remember, after all, but the differences.

We'll remind ourselves of those Christmases from when we lived in Greece, when the stuff in our stockings took on a decidedly Hellenic cast.

Someone will tease me about the year I showed up with my girlfriend, the woman who is now my wife, dressed up by her in holiday cummerbund and matching bow tie when everyone else, including my brother and sister, had changed into the pajamas they'd received as gifts. Maybe it sounds silly that up until that year, we all, a family of adults and near adults had continued to wear jammies as part of the present unwrapping tradition. But I broke with it that year, remaining fully clothed in solidarity with Jennifer, knowing that she would be uncomfortable wearing nightwear around my family. Today, no one will wear pajamas, although, I think, we all still consider it part of the tradition.

We also don't meet up early in the morning, although for years we did, getting over there by no later than 9 a.m. When our daughter Josephine was born, it shifted to 10, then as more babies were added to the mix, the start time slid to noon. This year, we're not getting together until 1 p.m.

Yet still, it's all a part of the same family tradition.

I will, this morning, unpack my 50th stocking (yes, mom saved my stocking for me from the one year I missed, although not from the year she and dad spent in Saudi Arabia), the same one made for me by my grandmother in honor of my first Christmas. The same one my brother and I whispered over in the dark. There will be nuts in there, an orange, an apple, a four-piece Whitman's sampler, all part of the unbroken tradition that remains unbroken even during years when we were together in places or under circumstances in which these specific items were not obtainable.

We're still whispering together in the dark, even as we come together in the brightness of a Christmas afternoon and amidst the boisterousness of all those babies who've not yet outgrown Santa.

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