It’s early Sunday morning, a week before Christmas. Mike is still sleeping, the dogs haven’t yet begun the morning clamor to be fed and walked, Tipsy the cat is curled up next to me and the silence is broken only by the row of hanging Santa stars gently clinking together as the heat powers up and forces them to dance about. It draws my attention each time it happens, and I glance at them and feel a fondness in my heart for traditions that form almost inadvertently and become imperative, as if they’d been there forever.
In my house, it becomes Christmas only when the Santa stars are hung. They have a new spot this year, as we settle into our new apartment, and now they smile down at me from above our big new living room window. They make me feel settled and grounded and festive, and they are more important to me than anyone could ever know, as they tell the living, breathing story of our family and of people who come and stay awhile, leaving some kind of mark on us before they leave.
Each hand-painted Santa has a wide black belt, and on each belt, written in gold ink, is the name of everyone who ever spends Christmas with us, the regulars, the visitors and the pets! How my old memories leap up, as I hang the stars, and I let each memory stretch as it comes. By the time I read that last name, my mind and heart are filled with the stories of Christmases past, and the Christmas spirit has arrived in abundance. How strange that in all the kerfuffle of Christmas, all of the money spent and the gifts bought and the food planned, that this is what it is truly all about.
Each year, life surprises us in some way, and new stars are added. An Aussie relative might come for a visit, a new friend or partner of one of the kids might join us or, as is the case this year, a new baby comes and the Santas scooch up, jockeying for position as a new star is joyfully added. No-one can really know how I love adding new stars to the string, how it gives me a feeling of the continuity of life, how it helps to make me feel grounded again, especially if I feel lost or alone, as if I could fly away ….
The heat has kicked in again, and the Santas are dancing again already as I write. It must be extra cold out today. Or perhaps they are dancing just for me, knowing that I’m feeling particularly fond of them today. I see my children dancing around Granny, who’s dancing next to Tipsy. And our newest star, Troy, is dancing next to Twinkie, the well-travelled guinea pig, who hung out with us through an amazing six Christmases!
Here’s to the string of Santa stars expanding for years to come, painting new little scenes into our family portrait as time goes by. And here’s to Christmas 2011, where more people than ever before will crowd around my kitchen table. As the sun struggles to warm this frigid morning, I am here filled with warmth and good cheer, watching and feeling the joyous dance of the past, present and future.