December Nostalgia


Shiny and Bright

Shiny and Bright


December is a rough time of year.  In Seattle, the days are dark and the nights are long.  It’s damp.  It’s cold–not cutting like Midwest- or Canada-cold, just brisk enough for me to complain about.  It’s a time when digging enthusiasm and impetus out from the basement is a brutal proposition.  My creativity grumpily crawls back into bed, telling me to fuck off until February.  Suffice it to say, we’re deep into my least favorite time of the year.

It’s the light I miss most.  A quaver of panic squirrels through me come August when the sunshine shades away from bright gold, and casts the world in a crisp silver light.  That’s how I know the season has truly changed, when the quality of light alters.  I struggle to convince myself that the slowly rising dark is not a sign of imminent doom, and it will all turn out fine.   It’s not that bad.  No big.

Eh.  My optimistic self is a liar.  It is that hard.  Every year.

With my deep and abiding antipathy for our night-filled months, I find it odd my most powerful feelings of nostalgia are stirred by something that only occurred in deepest, darkest Decembers.

My family celebrated Christmas when I was growing up, and we were lucky enough to always have a tree.  This was a real tree, that gave off a piney, foresty scent for days after we brought it home.  Our lights were the big, fat, translucent ones of gold, green, red, and blue, that came out before safety regulations and energy conservation was the norm.  Some  flashed, some glowed steadily, all burned hot and bright.  Tinsel, paper chains and gold garland decked each bough, and the old glass ornaments gleamed even in the daylight.  We didn’t mess around.

When I was small (and even not so small), I used to wrap up in my bathrobe and sneak back to the living room in the middle of the night.  I remember hugging the wall as I descended the stairs–I’d read in a spy novel that the middle of the treads were what squeaked–and extreme quiet was called for, you see, or I’d wake up the dogs, who would then wake up my mom. My pre-teenaged brain was certain that would be bad.  Navigating the black-on-dim silhouettes in the living room, I’d find the switch to the Christmas tree lights.  Then, when they were shining like sunlit jewels in the darkness, I’d curl under the tree, nestling amid whatever presents were already there.  I’d look up through the boughs at the dance of colors and shapes.  I’d smell the resin, and feel the warmth of the bulbs, and gaze in sleepy bliss for what felt like a small forever.

And that was it.  It wasn’t anticipation of Christmas Day and its various celebrations.  It was the sensation of being cocooned in warmth and color, light and shadow.  That was the magic.  That’s what I remember.

So now, though I don’t celebrate Christmas, per se, we still find a way to get a tree.  We haul out the flashing lights along with the memories that come with thirty-years worth of ornaments.  Every now and then this ritual conjures the childhood magic of wonder and comfort, beauty and light in the darkness, driving away the gloom beyond the windows–and in myself–just for a little while.

Or maybe it simply proves that I’m more like my cats than I want to admit.  At least I don’t knock the ornaments off the tree.


What is your brightest memory of Decembers past?



Please, share your thoughts.

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