The Gift of Anticipation
Well, it’s hard to believe, but the year is winding down and Christmas is all but upon us. I, for one, am ready to deck the halls. But then, I’m always ready to deck the halls. For me, the saddest day of the year is the day the Christmas tree comes down. The happiest is the day it goes back up.
I have an almost obsessive love of Christmas, for the movies and the carols and the wrapping, for the lights and the trees, and yes, even the shopping. Maybe it’s genetic, because my mother had it too. Or maybe, like the secret to a perfect pie crust, it’s simply something passed down through the generations. Either way, it seems my holiday obsession was an inescapable one. You see, I had a mother with the knack for transforming the everyday things into special things. Ordinary was the enemy, and Christmas was her specialty.
Money was tight when my brother and I were kids—sometimes very tight. But in my family the holidays were never about what we’d find beneath the tree on Christmas morning. It was about traditions—the small and wonderful ones—gingerbread houses and cookies with sprinkles, candy canes and snowflakes cut from paper doilies, stockings with our names spelled out in glitter… and anticipation so delicious that even as a child I wouldn’t have traded it for all the ponies and Malibu Barbies in the world.
What my parents lacked in funds, my mother more than made up for with a list of daily activities that began the day after Halloween. November 1st was List Day, the day that kicked it all off. Detailed lists were compiled on legal pads, one for baking, one for decorating, one for events and projects. Then the listed items were carefully entered on the kitchen calendar so that my brother and I always knew exactly what cookies would be baked on which day, when our letters to Santa needed to be mailed, what day the nativity scene would be set up, when the outside lights would be hung, and what day we would put up the tree.
Tree Day always fell late on the calendar for us—when sellers were open to haggling—which meant we usually missed out on the “best” trees. We never cared. Our home was too full of love and hot chocolate to ever feel the loss.
I suppose my mother’s list and calendar ritual sounds a bit archaic in our one-click, dot-com, e-calendar world, but back then my mother worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, and if she was going to get it all done—and she always did—she needed those lists to ensure that it all rolled out seamlessly. From November 1st on, there wasn’t a day my brother and I didn’t wake up knowing exactly which holiday project would be tackled that day, or an evening when we didn’t feel the satisfaction of crossing something off the list. One day closer.
And all that carefully arranged anticipation didn’t end at dawn on Christmas morning in a blinding frenzy of ribbon and torn paper. First there was an enormous breakfast with the grandparents, while my brother and I squirmed in our chairs, trying to catch a glimpse of the brightly wrapped bounty awaiting us beneath the tree in the living room—torture of the most exquisite variety.
The idea of waiting to open presents until after breakfast was horrifying to most of my friends. I found the idea of not waiting, of rushing through it all, and losing some of the joy in the process, equally horrifying. In our house Christmas wasn’t a day it was a season, a slow, delicious unfolding. We didn’t rush toward one “big day.” We planned, and we savored.
Now I’m all grown up, and it’s just me and the hubby; no patter of tiny feet about the house, no letters to Santa to mail. Still, I make my lists. I make them on legal pads, and then carefully plug in each project on my paper calendar. Because it’s what my mother did—and because she did it all so beautifully. The best gift I ever got for Christmas, the one I treasure to this day, is the delicious gift of anticipation. Thanks, Mom.
For more information about The Secrets She Carried, visit the Penguin Group page at http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780451418777,00.html?The_Secrets_She_Carried_Barbara_Davis .