After Christmas

How many times an excited child exclaims, "I wish every day was Christmas!" If asked why, he replies quite frankly, "So I could get presents." He is not convinced by the adult argument that presents every day would soon become as uninteresting as spinach.

Perhaps it is really not just the presents that delight a child. It could also be the glittering tree dominating the livingroom, the warm glow of candles, colored lights sparkling on snow dusted evergreens beside the gaily decorated door, and the beautiful music of Christmas that he longs to enjoy for days on end. It could be cookies, candy, and festive meats that tempt him, or it might be that he wants always to be wrapped in the joyous, warm affection the Christmas engenders in the adults who rule his life.

Christmas is love tied up in red ribbons, it is happiness draped with tinsel, it is joy scattered like the silvery chimes of a carillon ringing through the frosty night air. It is warm, soft, and tender as a mother holding her newborn child and bright, gay and gaudy as the circus in July. Christmas is laughter with a lump in your throat, the end of the rainbow, a dream come true when you're wide awake. And it is over all too soon.

On the day after Christmas some of the new toys are broken, the directions to a least one game are lost, and Mother says that thank you notes must be written. It turns warm so the snow disappears and the new sled can't be used, the ice gets soft so the new skates can't be tried out, and anyway a headcold seems imminent. The smell of fudge makes tummys flop over, and the turkey attacked so eagerly the day before, is absolutely repellant cut up in gravy and served on toast.

The handsome kitchen utensils Mom received are just so many more things that must be washed. Dad's new tools invalidate all the excuses he's had for putting off household repairs. Brother's new bike means he won't get Mom to drive him around his paper route, and sister's sewing machine will be just as handy for doing the family mending as for turning out those smart little dresses she envisions.

Grandpa hangs six new ties on his over crowded tierack and Uncle Jim contemplates three cartons of cigarettes, wondering why no one noticed he gave up smoking two months ago. Grandma jams three sweaters and two pair of bedsocks into the bottom drawer on top of last year's still untouched supply and blesses the dears who gave them...again.

But yesterday morning was such fun! The children bubbled with rapacious excitement as they tore open packages in one sixth the time it took to wrap them so beautifully. Tags got lost and who was responsible for the fluffy, orange slippers that are a size too small, is a mystery. The cat took a nap on Dad's new sportcoat, which somehow got left on the floor, and shed hair all over it.

Christmas is smiling with tears in your eyes. It is spending five minutes while the potatoes finish boiling, staring out a hole rubbed in the steamy kitchen window, lost in a far away, private, lonely world. It is reading old nursery rhymes from a shiny new book to a two year old. It is the nerve wracking clatter of a pull toy and the soothing sound of a Montavani record. It is a rosy cheeked eleven month old cherub alternately sucking on and pounding her high chair tray with a turkey bone in the place at the table where Grandpa sat last year.

Some years Christmas almost gets lost. A special gift can't be found. One of the family is ill or can't be home. Maybe it is only the lack of snow, that clean, cold sparkling touch that makes the town look so festive, that squashes the spirit. But plodding doggedly through the days of preparation, collecting bits of Christmas by taking part in church services, frosting the cookies, buying stocking stuffers, using up miles of paper, ribbon and sticky tape, smiling at fellow shoppers and echoing their greetings, lightens the heart. Say "Merry Christmas" often enough and suddenly, perhaps not until Santa arrives to heap his largess under the tree, it is there.

Christmas never really gets lost and it is never really quite over. It comes inevitably, though we are as unprepared for it as the world was for the first Christmas, and it lingers just as indomitably in the loving, caring , and sharing we do all year.

In a few days we begin a new year to be filled with joys, sorrows, pleasures, and terrors. A year that will end with another Christmas. How wonderful to know that no matter what else happens, Christmas will always come again and for a few hours we can all be child-like in the blessed mystery of that enchanted day.