And to All a Good Night [ 2004-12-23, 11:45 p.m. ]

When I was six I thought I had proof that Santa existed because my brother and I found a stash of toys in the basement and then ran upstairs to tell our mom, who came back downstairs with us and looked and looked and somehow, the toys were gone, only to appear under our tree the next morning. When I was 13 my grandmother gave me a box full of semi-sexy underwear for Christmas and I opened it in front of the entire family and they made me show the gift and I thought I would die of embarrassment even though it was all in good fun and the underwear was not slutty-sexy or thongs or anything weird like that. When I was 15 I wore a baby doll dress with opaque tights on Christmas day and I thought I looked H-O-T. When I was 16 my family arrived at my grandmotherís house for Christmas dinner to find my uncles yelling at each other and eventually storming out of the house, leaving everyone in a tizzy. When I was 22 I spent Christmas alone in my first apartment in Brooklyn, eating grilled cheese sandwiches and watching a marathon of ďNorthern ExposureĒ on A&E. And when I was 24 I flew to Ohio to spend Christmas with my new boyfriend Kent, in Cincinnati, which sounded somehow exotic and fun and marked my first visit to his parentsí house and it snowed and I remember going to a bar and ordering a Bass while everyone else was drinking $1 tubs of Miller Lite and having my first inkling that a culture clash might be afoot.

But this year! This year I am not in the middle of planning a wedding or searching for a new job or struggling to find meaning in an otherwise senseless universe or taking a red eye or scrambling to buy a few last gifts or house-breaking a puppy. This year I discovered the O.C. and par-baked almond croissants from Fresh Direct and Netflix and I plan to think globally and celebrate locally. Kent and I are going to church tomorrow night and then to dinner at a favorite restaurant during which Kent will likely order Beef Wellington and I will likely wear red lipstick. We will wake up on Christmas morning with a little dog stretched out between us, and Kent will make coffee while I wrap up in a blanket and have my way with the aforementioned almond croissants. We will open presents and talk to our families and I will roast butternut squash and make peas with cashews and fried shallots and then we will take the food upstairs for dinner with our neighbors. Then Kent and I will go for a walk and come home and watch movies and drink wine and eat leftovers. I might read a book; he might download some new songs or play a new video game. And that might be it. Or, we may take a taxi to the Four Seasons for champagne and dessert, or walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, or cry a little because we miss our families. At this point I am focusing on 5:00 p.m., December 24, the moment at which my store closes for the night and the work week ends and I will toast the holiday with my co-workers and feel a little sad because I am leaving them soon. At 5:00 p.m., my Christmas begins, and I plan on exhaling slowly and deeply and then walking home to my husband and my apartment and my Christmas stocking, all of which wait patiently and steadily for me through all of my ups and downs and turn-arounds.

When I was 23 my entire family flew to New York for 10 days and we spent Christmas at my friend Jayís lake house in New Jersey, and my parents cooked and we had oodles of champagne on Christmas Eve and a 13-foot tree and I remember that Jay and his then-partner Chris gave my brother Josh a set of pastels because they knew that he was artistic even though they had just met him, and they gave presents to my entire family, and really, when I think about it, it was the best Christmas Iíve ever had. I donít know if Iíll have another holiday like it anytime soon, but thatís okay.

When I was 27 I spent Christmas in New York with my fiancť. It started to snow in the morning and by the time the sun set, there was over a foot of snow and no plows had come through the neighborhood so Kent and I went out in boots and hats and walked down the middle of Clinton Street and up to Court Street, which was deserted, and all over town there were little clumps of other people, all stomping and stepping through drifts, and the city was so, so quiet.

When I was five my dad dressed up like Santa one night and sat on a throne in our neighborhood park so that all the kids could visit him and sit on his lap and when it was my turn he winked at me, and it was the same year that I got a hooded rainbow-striped sweater just like the one my brother had.

This year! This year my hair is long enough for a ponytail and I have three issues of the New Yorker to catch up on and the weather is supposed to be warmer than usual and I really, really feel lucky.

Merry Christmas.


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