knits & plants

aah, the simple life. almost.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

christmastime in the city

For 29 years, I've celebrated the Christmas season with a full heart. It has never lost its sense of hushed anticipation, of quiet delight for me. When the lights start to appear in houses and in yards on my dark drive home, it makes me happy. It lightens the sense of isolation one feels, living in such a remote area of the country. My own warm house sits waiting for me, with all my creatures and my husband cozily inside, lit up on the hillside.

This will be, for us, the last Christmas of its kind. With the arrival of this child, next year's Christmas will be so different. I cannot wait. I'd like to acknowledge all the work and spirit that my parents put into infusing this time of year with enough wonder to last my sister and I a lifetime. I can only hope that Glenn and I can succeed to such a degree with this child.

Our childhood Christmases had little to with the holiday elements that so many people dread. It never seemed to be about shopping or fighting families or enforced merriness. While we didn't have a lot of money, we still seemed to be imbued with Christmas experiences that could be remembered for years. For us, a lot of the holidays were connected with being in New York City, a place which will always be special to me. My father worked in the City, and took us each year to the Bell Atlantic/Nynex/Verizon Christmas Party in the World Trade Center. We'd not go to school that day. Before dawn, Nora and I would be woken, stuffed into tights, velvet party dresses and patent leather shoes. We would ride the bus from New Jersey into the City, awake and thrilling to see the sun rise over the skyline. We'd navigate the rushing streets of the financial district with our father, who knew exactly where to go and how to get around. Commuting to New York is never a picnic. I never realized what efforts that day probably took for him to get us there and keep us under control all day, and how many lesser dads would have panned the entire outing.

On the 20-something-story of the Trade Center, my dad's office seemed like the biggest place. Full of cubicles, phones ringing, and busy people, his office was a part of his life we never otherwise got to see. We were allowed to play on computers and eat as many Christmas cookies as we liked. I would stand on the heating registers and press my nose to the floor-to-ceiling windows to stare down at the street below, where bright yellow cabs moved impossibly slowly and people on the streets were barely discernible. There was a Santa who arrived to distribute presents the parents had previously provided, and took pictures with you. Nora inevitable spilled something on her dress and lost her hair bows.

On other Christmases, we were taken to see Radio City Music Hall and see the Christmas Spectacular. The tree in Rockerfeller Center isn't the same unless seen as a child does, from the mobbed streets amid the cacophony of midtown, with the skaters below on the tiny rink. My parents bravely shuffled us around all day in that impossible sea of humanity and took us to eat in Chinatown where they served real ducks that were an improbable shade of bronze. And delicious.

When I was older, a planned Christmas in the City outing almost ended in disaster. We woke in the morning to find almost four feet of snow had fallen, wreaking havoc with all forms of mass transportation. But that day had been planned for months, and god bless my mom totally dismissing the idea that we would have to scrap our Christmas visit to New York. Sure, it took our bus three times as long to get into Manhattan, but once we were there, nothing could take the place of witnessing the strange change that comes over everything after a heavy snowfall.

New Yorkers are a hardbitten bunch, but that day everyone we met seemed caught up in the childlike glee of a snow day. Snow muffled the blaring of traffic, and people wandered the streets on foot with shit-eating grins on their faces. It was magical.

Midday, we took a break from slogging the snowy streets to visit Tavern on the Green in Central Park. Practically hidden away under the snowy trees, we found ourselves wandering among the snow-laden topiary lit from within by thousands of tiny white lights. Inside, the Tavern was in full Christmas glory. I didn't know it was possibly to place so many ornaments on a tree. I don't remember what we ate, but I do remember that I had the most delicious cup of tea that $6 could get you.

As evening fell, we made our way to the midtown holiday hub. The whole reason for the day's trip was still before us: tickets to see the New York City Ballet perform the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. I'd seen the Nutcracker before, but as a much smaller child. We found our seats, anxiously awaiting my father who made it from work just in time.

The lights dimmed, and as the fifteen-foot tree on stage grew to twenty, thirty, now forty feet tall, we were reduced to the size of mice. That sensation, so powerful that I start to cry if I think too hard about it, is exactly why I love this time of year. I hope I never lose the ability to enter the willing suspension of disbelief. And I hope you never do, either. The opportunity to practice it lies everywhere at this time of year, especially if there are small people in your life. Thanks, Mom & Dad, for doing such a darn good job of it for us. Merry Christmas to all, duckies.


At 2:38 PM, Anonymous lulu said...

HEY! I never spill. im a picture of grace! xoxp
im glad you wrote it down


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