When I was growing up, my parents would always start off Christmas morning the same way. Harry, Fiona, and I would come into their room, jump on their bed at around seven am (we were expressly forbidden from waking them sooner), and insist we go downstairs and open presents. We would then wait at the top of the stairs while my Mom made coffee and Dad went into the living room and exclaimed in loud and enthusiastic tones at the presents that Santa had brought overnight. “Oh my God, LOOK!! This is INSANE. Rose, will you come in here?? LOOK AT THIS. We’re going to have to send some of this back. You guys don’t deserve this many presents,” and so on, taking what felt like a painfully long period to make the two cups of coffee, then, finally, take out the camera and allow us to proceed down the steps in age-order (meaning that I always went last), and photographed us as we entered the living room. When we were older and got our dog, Harry used to make plans to strap a video camera to Cocoa’s collar and let him go down and spy on the Christmas tree for us. This giddiness hardly wore off as we grew older, and my Dad continued to exclaim about Santa even after none of us believed him. But throughout the entire morning, we would listen to the soundtrack of Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular, whose songs are now imprinted in my head as I go about the holiday season. One in particular made its mark.
“It’s Christmas in New York,” the Rockettes would sing, as I opened presents and handed mine to my parents in exchange. “New York. New York.” I imagined the tree at Rockafeller Center, the store windows at Sacks, the cold city streets filled with lights. And finally, after twenty three years, I know what made that song worth singing, and know that the reality is even more magical.
There is truly nothing quite like the Christmas season in this city. Even as a barely paid intern who can mostly marvel at the shop windows rather than entering, I find myself swept up in the festivity of the season, in a way I never felt in college or even beforehand. I spent last weekend making gluten-free Christmas cookies with Nick and Sam, going to the Nutcracker (tickets to which the boys gave me as a birthday present, and which was stunning), hopping from one Christmas market to the next, and decorating my and Ross’s tree, which is tiny and stout and wonderful, and sits beside our IKEA couches in the living room. I have been to several holiday parties, marveled at the lit trees up and down Park ave, and made yet another batch of boeuf bourgignon for a last-minute pre-holiday gathering of friends tonight. It is, suffice to say, in many ways the most wonderful time of the year.
In other ways, however, we have all found ourselves going through the last week with heavy hearts, as news from the school shootings pervades every news source, and the financial and familial stress the holidays can bring weighs down on us even as we celebrate them. One of the realizations of growing up, I have found, is that there is never a time which does not have some tinge of bittersweet emotion. I listen to Christmas carols and smile as I wrap presents on my bedroom floor, and then turn on my computer, read the Times homepage, and am in tears. I decorate our beautiful little tree, and pass people on Houston street who do not have beds to sleep in. In times when we are encouraged to feel the most joy, there is a heightened sense that this is the only emotion we are allowed to feel. And Christmas carries with it this pressure almost more than any other time.
So here is my advice to my fellow Prousters, family, and friends: let the holidays be whatever they are for you. Tell the people you love that you love them, as often and as eloquently as you can. Do not feel the need to buy too many presents, or feel like everyting has to be perfect, or exactly the way it was when you were a child. Proust has taught me, along with time itself, that nothing ever remains the same, and that our ability to grow and adapt to this change is what makes us stronger. I am having two Christmases this year, the way I see it. One will be with my best friends, before I go home, and the other with my family in Baltimore. On Saturday I will go home to my family for a week, and will come back to a different routine than the one I am leaving, will have to find a new job, or else piece a few together. I will have to say goodbye to my desk adn office kitties, and leap out into a future which is, at this point, largly unknown. But this is not as frightening as it once was, because I know that no matter what happens, we will carry on. I will keep writing, carols will keep playing, the most wonderful friends on earth will still be there for me. Christmas still has its magic, even if I now find it under a very different tree.
So Nora and I would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas, or Hanukkah (though I know that has now passed), or Kwanzaa, or Winter Solstice, or whatever you celebrate. You, our friends, family, and readers, are the best gifts we could ever ask for. So light your candles, gather together, drink mulled wine and eat cookies. And have the happiest of New Years.