The Only Gift You’ll Ever Need

Memory is a funny thing. This time of year, a particular memory always returns to me, and I have no idea why. It’s from December of 1988. I was 21 years old and studying for a semester at West Chester University outside of Philadelphia. My roommate, Nancy, invited me to her house for the weekend. We’d spent the day in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, enjoying the holiday decorations and markets. That evening, after her mom had gone to bed, Nancy decided to decorate their Christmas tree. She put on my favorite holiday album, John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Christmas, and poured us a warm drink. As I sat in a comfy chair watching her hang ornaments on her tree, I was filled with absolute peace.

The persistence of this memory fascinates me. I long ago lost touch with that roommate, whom I only knew for four short months. I’ve never again returned to that part of the country. The memory has nothing to do with me, really. After all, it was her tree and her ornaments and her house. I have so many happy memories of Christmases when I was a kid or when my children were little. Hundreds of them, but it’s this memory that comes back every single year. Why?

Near as I can figure, it has something to do with the simplicity of that scene, and my role as observer. I had no responsibilities in that moment other than to be present to the music, the drink in my hand, and the stories my friend was sharing. It was she who had to mix the drink, and turn on the record player, and decide which ornaments to hang. All I had to do was close my eyes and feel the Christmas Spirit.

I think that memory has such appeal to me now because in the many years since that night, Christmas for me has become a list of chores. It has become a season to “get through” rather than “relax in.” It feels as if we talk about the “wonder” of the season, even as we orchestrate every moment. For women, especially, the responsibilities this time of year are enormous. The quiet moments are few and far between. Over time, we become the magicians performing the tricks rather than the audience members experiencing the magic. We know what’s in every present under the tree, we know what’s in every recipe that’s prepared, we know all the stories by heart. We go to sleep at night not with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads, but worries about what we might be forgetting.

I know not everyone feels this way about the holiday season. Call me Scrooge if you want. I’ll answer to that. But what I really wish I could give everyone I love this year, what I really wish I could give myself, is a season filled with nothing more than moments to just sit together with a cup of something warm in our hands, with soft music playing, and snow quietly falling outside the window, and the deep, tingly, magical knowing that we are loved, and we are safe, and that’s enough. It’s so much more than enough. It’s the greatest gift, perhaps the only gift, we’ll ever really need.

If you like this post, please share and credit Teresa and Bursts of Brilliance for a Creative Life blog