Someone asked me recently about my happiest Christmas. I got an image of my brain as a Rolodex of memory index cards spinning around until it landed on a happy day of childhood at my grandparents' house. We didn't usually go to their house for Christmas, but that year we did. There was a lit up tree in the dining room decorated with fragile glass ornaments. Some of the lights bubbled. My cousins ran around and yelled as they played. Aunts chatted in the kitchen. Uncles chatted in the living room. Dinner was perfect. Everyone was happy. I was happy.
One of the pleasures of going to Grandma's was after the meal was done. Women whisked the dishes into the kitchen and men took the children to the nearby park where we burned off our excess energy and cookies. In winter, the pond was frozen over and there was a hot fire going nearby. People warmed their hands and laughed. Sometimes we walked to the other end of the park with the big sledding hill where there was another big fire burning. Up the hill, down the hill... repeat until bruised and exhausted. Trudge our way back to Grandma's where the dishes were miraculously clean and put away.
We played cards and drank hot tea. We had sandwiches made from leftovers and ate more cookies. Grandma filled us all in on the extended family whom I probably never met, or maybe died 3 or 4 generations ago. The patter of the conversation didn't matter much to me. I just liked listening to the pleasantness of it with the tinkling of a metal spoon clinking as someone stirred sugar in their tea. The creaking of Grandpa's oak rocking chair, his soft huh, huh chuckle when something struck him funny. "Santa Got Run Over by a Reindeer" playing somewhere upstairs.
My wish is for every child to have a perfect holiday, whatever their religion. I hope they are safe and loved and they feel a sense of belonging amongst the people around them. I hope older people feel treasured by the younger generations.
Of course, I also know my happy wishes won't come true for everyone. For some, the mashed potatoes might fly across the room or somebody pounds the table. Some people are lonely because they don't have anyone around anymore. For them, I wish a perfect memory of happiness that keeps them warm when things aren't like a perfect day at Grandma's.
It wasn't that my grandparents did anything so remarkable back then. I got a small gift I don't remember anymore. The food was great, but it wasn't gourmet fare. It was probably a turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans or something -- oh yeah, let's not forget the ever-present applesauce! Pretty little dishes with pickles and olives and nuts and whatever else scattered around the table. Talking about unknown relatives isn't exactly thrilling. Playing cards is pretty cheap entertainment. It's just that when all these things were combined it was magic.
Or, maybe the point of it was my own perspective? Happiness isn't something someone can force on you. We choose it. Wherever you are, whoever you're with, whatever life gives you, I hope you find joy and happiness this holiday season!