I’m sitting on the floor of my bedroom listening to George Winston’s “December” album. The children are nestling down in my bed. Downstairs Andrew is talking with our friend Werebrock on the phone whilst a cauldron of beer-brew simmers on the stove. We’re calling it “Deck it Dark” because we brewed it on the night when we also happened to decorate our Christmas tree. Hence the tinkling December piano—the last Christmas CD in the tray.
This weekend has been absolutely magical.
We went from there to Ten Thousand Villages, which always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, unless I don’t buy something. Then I feel guilty for not supporting fair trade and those beautiful Indian women seated on the ground weaving palms into stars. So of course I bought a something or two so I would continue feeling wonderful.
Then we went to a Middle Eastern restaurant–an old establishment–where a belly dancer filled the air with the jingling of her hips, and the ceiling was draped with billows of red cloth, and the walls were painted with rich Turkish designs. I ended my meal with a cup of Turkish coffee, and decided that was better than wine, especially since it set the stage so perfectly for our next trip to the Chocolate Shop par excellence. We all shared an ecstasy truffle called “ancient secrets”—the one laced and dusted with cayenne. The Turkish coffee made me do it, and I’m so glad—it was indeed ecstatic to the tongue.
Of course, what could follow such pleasures than heading to the big boxes for some true American shopping? Do you know how much you can spend on stamps when you decide you’re not going to buy any wrapping paper but instead decorate blank newspaper with stamps? Why don’t we instead consider how sweet it is that I’ll be wrapping Christmas gifts in paper that CAN be recycled and decorated by hand with some bitchin’ designs. And we’re not going to even talk about how much money I spent at Target, but let’s just say that it was definitely a Very Good Thing that we got there one hour before closing. The time limit kept my basket relatively…less heaping than on previous Christmas shopping trips.
I did get Renee a “byutifl jress” from Santa at Target. I was hoping to get two—a really ritzy one, which I knew she would love, and then one that was more functional. But all they had were really ritzy ones. Since we’d be going to the ballet the very next night, I began to devise a plan. I put tiny black velvet gloves in my basket, and a small black velvet hoodie. Black Mary Janes, size 10½, and black ribbon barrettes with tiny cream ribbon roses. Once I was home I wrapped everything up in plain newspaper—the dress, the gloves, the shoes, the barrettes, and the book—and put it under her bed. Then I wrote a letter. This is what it said (in especially curvy script):
the eighth of December, 2007
My forest elf has told me that tonight you are going to The Nutcracker Ballet! This is such a special event! Did you know that your mother has never ever been to The Nutcracker ballet?
So I am bending the rules a little bit so that you can have an extra special thing for tonight. But when the night is done you must return everything back to where you found it, or it will turn into dust! My forest elf will come and get your special surprise, and I will have it back to you for Christmas Morning.
Have a wonderful time tonight!
p.s. I almost forgot! Look under your bed!
I placed the letter in her top dresser drawer, and in the morning, guided her to the moment of discovering that Santa had left a letter for her. Needless to say, this was a very exciting moment for Renee, and she took it in quietly, with wide eyes and a big smile. But McKinley began opening up his dresser drawers with gusto, craving a letter. How could I have been so blind to the obvious need for two letters? He began to turn the whole house upside down, looking for that letter which I had failed to write!
I retreated to my room. I locked the door. I took out an identical piece of paper, and began to write, in especially curvy script:
the eighth of December, 2007
My forest elf told me how brave and strong you are, and how kind you are to others. I am so glad to hear that, and so proud of you!
But my forest elf has been cold and lonely this Winter, and I was hoping you could help me!
Will you leave some candy in the forest for my forest elf? It will make him so happy! And you are so brave and kind. If you can, there will be a special treat for you in the morning!
Midway through writing this McKinley knocks on my door. I stuff the letter under my bed, and unlock my door. He slides past me quick as a wind and says, “Mom, maybe Santa left something for me under your bed, because he can’t leave anything under my bed (it sits on the floor),” and already he’s on his knees, and peering under my bed. I snatch him up, but he’s seen it already! I throw him on my bed and start tickling him, but he’s seen his letter, and cannot be deterred. I am dragging him out of the room, trying to get him on the other side of the door. By now Renee is in the room, too, trying to see what all the excitement is about as she prances around princess-like in her dress and gloves. “Out! Out!” I holler. “I need some privacy! OUT!” Finally the door is closed, and I rush to finish the rest of the letter. Would he figure it out? I was so scared that I’d blown the magic. I slipped the now completed letter back under the bed and opened the door. McKinley poured into the room, went straight for the spot, and shouted, “See, Mom! I told you! Look here it is! Read it to me! I can’t read cursive! What does it say? What does it say? I knew it was under your bed! I just knew it! Santa knew I sleep there sometimes, too!”
And after reading it to him, he became frenetic with desire to get candy to the forest elf. “And a blanket, Mom! He needs a blanket!” So it was off to the nearest gas station for Hershey’s Kisses and York Peppermint Patties (his choices), and we wrapped it all up in one of Renee’s baby blankets, which she kindly donated to the project, and into the forest we went, to hang our care package in a rhododendron.
“I guess that’s what the dogs have been barking at, McKinley—the forest elf, not a bear! What do you think?”
“Oh, yeah! That IS what they’ve been barking at! Let’s put it right here, Mom! He can climb up and get it!”
Forest Elf was taken care of, and I now had about ten minutes to get ready for the ballet. It’s true I’d never been to The Nutcracker, and tonight Renee and I would be going with my best friend and her daughter, who is a few years older than Renee. We had planned on getting really dressed up, to make it fun. Renee was already dolled-up to near-perfection in her dress, with it’s black velvet top and long, plum taffeta skirt with black velvet vines, and her black velvet gloves (holding her hands up, fingers down, with a royal air). I pulled on my own long black velvet skirt, a black tank, and a luxur
ious jacket with sequins and beads and tassels that I’ve owned for three years and not yet had an opportunity to wear. Hair, impossible. Neck adorned with emeralds. Camera in bag. Here we go!
First stop, my sister’s house, for a cookie decorating party. Renee brought her apron, and wore it dutifully when she decorated her three cookies, the first being an absolute tower of sweets. The party was also a fund-raiser for a “Keeping People Warm” fund at my sister’s (very liberal non-denominational) church, and so happily paid a dollar for each cookie we decorated, and three dollars for each mug of drink—with the option to get warmly toasted with rum or whisky. I declined that option, amazingly. Although later, trying to deal with a very talkative bouncy five-year-old high on sugar and ballet excitement, I nearly rued that decision. A little shopping here, a little shopping there (for grocery-things), and then sushi across the street from the ballet-hosting theater. Renee nearly choked on her nori. But we made it, in perfect time, for the settling into seats, the re-telling of the story, and then, the theater darkens. The audience hushes. The spell begins.
And all I can say, after sitting in my seat as a pure child delighted with every costume, every backdrop, every leap and twirl, Renee sitting in my lap, questions cluttering my ear as too-loud whispers—all I can say is my heart totally surrenders to the magic of this story that is danced every Christmas across the world. And I think—there are Claras dreaming and Sugar Plum Fairies twirling across a hundred stages tonight, and we are all engaged in the mystery and delight that is the imagination. A tear slips down my cheek. It is all so beautiful, and I am so grateful for this pure child that lives in me still, fresh and captivated with the miracle of being alive and engaged in this big story we are telling.
So before I climb into bed late late that night, after the ballet and the long drive home, I make a little stack of presents and cookies, and slide them under my bed, where the letter was before. And I know I’m telling my children a story. It’s a story, but it’s not a lie, because even now I still believe in Santa, not in the flesh and blood kind of way, but as something that lives in us, something warm and giving and masculine that comes to us, with magic deer, and through the magic of our hearths, at the coldest and darkest time of the year, to give us something that will nurture our hearts, and kindle our imaginations, for it is those things that make us who we are.
Today. The rain moistened the Earth. We cut our Christmas Tree from our neighbor’s dwindling stock of Christmas Trees (we live in a Christmas Tree farming area). I picked the tree, Andrew cut it, and McKinley and he carried it back to the car, securing it with ropes. McKinley was having a great time—so excited, so joyful, just exuberant. Later I walked through the forest collecting moss and lichen to decorate our family altar. I brought back an armload, and told Renee and McKinley that I thought I might have found the elf’s tree. We marched back into the forest, collecting more tree moss and rhododendron leaves and other pretty things as we went. The forest came alive with their imaginations—and this time it wasn’t the bear in the shadows they were seeing, but elven footprints and elven holes. We had brought apple slices for our forest elf, and we left them by the tree I’d found. More found things are placed in the basket as we turn back to the house. My children are giddy with the thought of their forest elf eating the crisp slices of apple they left for him. And we all fall into this together, this sylvan merry-making, as we step out of the forest into the realm of our home. The Earth supplies us with all we need, and I had forgotten this, with my hurrying and worrying, but tonight our baskets are full with green, and things that seemed to have fallen into the darkness are kindled alive and lush with our laughter.