59: A Magical Conversation

59: A Magical Conversation

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

A Magical Conversation

Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won’t make it white.

~Bing Crosby

It was two weeks before Christmas and I was not ready. Not ready with food, not ready with gifts and decorations and, most of all, not ready in spirit. Outside, the grass was still green. This Christmas, of all Christmases, I needed snow to cheer me. I am Canadian after all.

It had been a tough year of financial loss from the stock market crash and a failing business that promised to drain us further still. We had been forced to move from a lovingly renovated home in the historic section of Oakville, Ontario, into a house that needed a lot of work. Worse still, we had to cram our business into what should have been the basement family room. I had put my interior design business on hold to help my husband with his company. I loved my design work; I did not love accounting or administration and, with each passing day, life was leaching from me.

This Christmas was not going to be the same as all the others. I had already scaled back on decorating and baking and there would be no entertaining, just our Christmas Eve fondue, and the potluck Christmas dinner with extended family. No Martha Stewart Christmas this year. Though their lists weren’t long, our three teenaged daughters weren’t going to get everything they’d asked for. There had been no time to make a Christmas playlist to put me in the mood. I had balance sheets and packing slips on my mind where there should have been visions of sugarplums dancing. And there was no white Christmas.

And then I was offered a last-minute free ticket to see the musical Jesus Christ Superstar with my friend who had worked on it as a scenic artist. With my husband out of town, I was free to go. It seemed an odd show for Christmastime, but I was determined to take this break and get my mind off my troubles.

Coincidentally, a fierce storm rolled in that evening. As I drove across the city through blinding snow, I reminded myself I had hoped for snow every day for the last two weeks. “Be careful what you wish for,” I scolded myself as I gripped the steering wheel with both hands.

Once inside the theatre, it occurred to me how apt this musical actually was for Christmas, sort of like reading the last chapter of a book before you begin at the beginning. It was an outstanding performance, and I felt faint stirrings of the Christmas spirit. By the time we left the theatre the wind had died down, and snow fell softly in enormous flakes. My friend and I raised our faces to the sky and laughed as we welcomed the cool kiss on our cheeks.

Driving home, it struck me that the sky was almost as bright as day. The snow had stopped and now the ground was a blanket of white and the night sky seemed to be filled with an ethereal milky whiteness, and a silent stillness. When I pulled into our driveway it was after midnight, yet two of my daughters wanted to go for a walk in the magical glow they’d been viewing from their windows.

We piled on our coats and scarves and hats and mittens and walked for forty-five minutes with the pristine snow crunching under our feet. It was truly enchanting. Then, somehow, the conversation turned to our Christmas traditions and I felt the twinge of guilt and disappointment at how different this Christmas would be. But the list they were making wasn’t about the material things I knew we would be lacking this year.

“Getting our tree at Drysdale’s,” recounted Whitney, the mist of her breath accompanying her words. We went every year with their cousins, the tractor-drawn wagon moving past rows of pines and spruces and balsams to the Fraser firs that we preferred. Those fine needles and thin boughs were the perfect backdrop for the hundreds of tiny white lights we would wrap around the trunk and branches before we hung the garlands and ornaments. We would choose the perfect tree together and cut it down ourselves.

“Baking chocolate peanut butter pinwheels,” said Morgan.

“No, caramel treasures,” rebutted her sister. I smiled. Each of my daughters had her favourite Christmas cookie, and that was the cookie she helped me bake. Though our baking endeavours had been reduced this year, we had still made these favourites.

The list went on — It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, White Christmas. The trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake to see the Trisha Romance-style decorations. Warm apple cider from Chudleigh’s Apple Farm. Gramma’s “nuts and bolts.”

The last one got us reminiscing about food, especially about our unique Christmas Eve tradition of fondue and Yorkshire pudding. For a long time, I made Christmas Eve dinner of roast beef and Yorkshires for just the five of us because, although we were all together at all the big family functions, the season seemed to pass without our little family sitting focused on each other in a truly significant way. When we got together with family, the kids would rush in the door to play with their cousins, the adults would catch up with each other, and I barely saw my own children. So I made Christmas Eve our time to steal away from the chaos that we all loved and share an intimate evening with each other. I chose roast beef and Yorkshire pudding because it was the furthest thing from the turkey we would consume on Christmas Day, but one year I switched it to fondue. The girls liked that even better, but they didn’t want to give up the Yorkshire pudding, so an unlikely Christmas tradition was born.

I smiled again as they went on about those dinners. As they had grown older we had stopped going to Christmas Eve church service. Instead, somewhere over the course of the evening as we set our skewered cubes of meat into the hot oil, we took turns recounting how God had shown up in our lives since the Christmas before. We learned so much about each other from those conversations.

We walked on and they added to the list — opening one gift before bed, Whitney reading the Luke 2 passage before we opened our stockings and gifts on Christmas morning. These were our traditions, the ones they talked about with enthusiasm. There was no mention of the gifts they wanted, no mention of the things I didn’t have time to do this year. What they cherished were the things I had tried to instill in them all along, little things that had nothing to do with money or all the Christmas “bells and whistles.”

As we headed back home in the magic whiteness, Morgan announced, “This is better than a sleepover!” With that, my cares and concerns of the previous weeks melted into gratitude. The snow was here and my kids understood what was important — perhaps better than I had this year. And I knew we would be all right.

~Marie MacNeill

Toronto, Ontario

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