I'VE NEVER been one who can shop for tree ornaments and Halloween candy at the same time. I want to be immersed in the special, separate season, smells of pine and baking cookies wafting through memories to a soundtrack of traditional music. It's spiritual, a time of reflection and hope. This season is not about my receiving presents, but about my inner child wanting them delivered by the Jolly Old Elf himself. I want to believe.
Silly as it may sound, my Christmas spirit has roots in what have become my annual guilty pleasures, all urging us to suspend disbelief: Charlie Brown, the Grinch, "A Christmas Carol" with Alistair Sim, "The Bishop's Wife" with Cary Grant. As sparkly snow transforms the brown landscape, the ghosts transform Ebenezer Scrooge and light his world. December has an exhilaration and mystical quality of possibilities and miracles like the one on 34th Street.
As I've mentioned, I grew up near Cleveland and visited relatives here all of my life. We usually traveled down on Christmas Eve after my father got home from work. I always hoped to leave late enough to see the lights on houses, especially along Route 7 on the Ohio River. We listened to WWVA where, between carols sung by Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams, a disc jockey updated reports on Santa's travels -- spotted over Europe, landed in Italy, flying west toward Canada. This was very exciting. From year to year, I remembered individual town decorations and looked for specific houses, too. There was something comforting about warm lights in the cold darkness, carols on the radio, Santa gliding through the starry night, the Christmas spirit everywhere around me.
There have also been Decembers when believing seemed just out of reach. Four months before getting married stress cracks from our jobs and wedding planning were showing, and my fiance and I decided to get away to New York City for a weekend. Arriving early Friday morning during a fierce storm that shut the entire city down wound our nerves tighter, and we started bickering. On Saturday afternoon, I walked alone on Lexington Avenue, wet and miserable, wondering if marriage were a huge mistake.
In 2006, my beloved greyhound Cassy suffered an injury, and her condition worsened during a power outage. After five days, the power came back on, but the damage was done, and I had to have her put down three days before Christmas.
I moved to the Oregon coast in November 2003 and tried to settle in and put a new life together, missing my house, holiday parties, my job and friends I'd had for 20 years, all of which were three time zones away.
But in these Decembers and a few others seemingly as bleak, something unexpected with a little touch of magic, a little touch of goodwill--always happened to revive or restore my weakened faith. That's what makes it "the most wonderful time of the year." At the grocery store near my new Oregon home, I asked a complete stranger a question, and it sparked a new circle of friends for both of us.
After Cassy's death, friends going out of town for Christmas asked me to pet- and house-sit for them so I wouldn't be in my apartment alone. Other clients followed, keeping me very busy with new pets.
Back in NYC, we went to dinner Saturday night at a small, candlelit restaurant on top of the World Trade Center. It started to snow. Big, fluffy flakes dropped past the plate glass windows down to the city. Suddenly it felt like Christmas, and doubt swirled away with the snowflakes into the night. We smiled, then laughed, and I remember feeling in love again. We returned almost every December after.
I never tire of seeing the Grinch hoist that sleigh over his head after his heart grows "three sizes that day" I want to believe in the good things like light in the darkness and peace. If there is a special season for magic, for possibilities, for belief, this is it, and I'll swear to this day that on the night before one Christmas, I heard sleigh bells and some scuffling on the roof. . .
Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.