Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Is Coming

Maybe it started with the candy strings: strips of green felt with twenty-four pieces of candy tied on with red yarn.  Beginning December first, my sister and brothers and I untied a candy cane or red gumdrop or Hershey Kiss every night after dinner, as we counted down the days to Christmas. Or maybe it was the way my mom read one chapter of The Adventures of Santa Claus every night in December and helped us memorize Luke 2, verse by verse.  Or maybe it was her approach to decorating for Christmas--every day while we were at school, she would choose one thing from the big cardboard Christmas box to put up while we were at school; we'd come home to find the manger scene on the coffee table, a cardboard Santa face on the fridge, jingle bells on the door, or the lantern candle in the middle of the dining room table.  Whatever the reason, for as long as I can remember, I have liked the anticipation of Christmas as much as or maybe even more than Christmas Day itself.  When I was a kid, I pored over the Sears Wish Book during the long, slow early days of December, carefully circling the toys I wanted most.  Like most kids, I had trouble sleeping on Christmas eve and loved those pre-dawn hours of Christmas morning before it all began.  I shivered in anticipation as I peeked down the hallway and spied my lumpy red knee sock pinned to the fireplace screen in the shadowy darkness.  When I grew up and had kids of my own, December days were anything but long and slow.  It seemed as though every minute was crammed full of shopping and baking, teaching and grading, piano classes and church play practices, concerts and ball games.  Instead of counting down the days to Christmas, I was racing the clock trying to finish everything in time. By the time my kids reached the jingle bells on the ends of their candy strings, I was usually out of breath and low on energy.  But even amidst all the hustle and bustle, a little refrain played over and over in my head: Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming! And every year Christmas eve would cast its spell on me--I'd be just as caught up in the wonder and magic of it as I'd been when I was ten. It felt like the whole world was holding its breath, waiting, anticipating, hoping.  When my kids left for college one by one, the pace started to slow down a bit.  Suddenly, I found myself counting down the days again.  This year, it'll be December 22nd before all their cars pile up in the driveway.  Only on the 24th will all three kids be sleeping in their old beds upstairs.  I'll be the last one up, filling stockings and setting the table for Christmas brunch.  As I'm turning off the Christmas lights, I'll pause for a moment before our manger scene, lit from behind by a single electric candle, and once again I'll feel the magic of Christmas, the promise of what is to come, the thrill of hope.