It was a few days before Easter when I realized there was no such person as Santa Claus. My second-grade classmates had made fun of me for believing there was an Easter Bunny. I ambled home with my eyes on the sidewalk, not even stopping to watch the ducks on the creek.
"Mom!" I shouted, opening the front door. "Mom!" Mom appeared at the archway into the living room. "There no such thing as the Easter Bunny, is there, Mom?"
She hesitated, then shook her head. "No, honey," she said.
And that's when it hit me.
"That means there's no such thing as Santa Claus, either," I said. Mom made no reply.
No Easter Bunny I could handle. But no Santa Claus? No Santa Claus? I felt like I'd been had.
But when I remember past Christmases, the Christmas Eve following that revelation is the one that stands out.
I hadn't divulged that adult secret to my younger brother and sisters: why spoil it for them? After they'd gone to bed, Dad took me to my Aunt Joyce's house, a few blocks away. He, my grandfather and I sat on the couches in front of the fireplace.
I remember the crackling and warmth of the fire, the scented candle burning on the coffee table and the sound of their hushed voices, talking into the night. It was one of those rare occasions when time seems suspended and all is well with the world.
Christmas Eve was, is, still magical.
There was the warm Christmas Eve that Kim (my husband) came home just after noon with a round bale from Ray Comer's. When he tried to drive up the hill to the house, the bale fell off, bursting its cords as it hit the ground. The whole family, adults and little ones, spent the rest of the afternoon scooping up great armfuls of the hay, still fresh with the smell of summer fields, and throwing it back on the truck. Sometimes little Rachel picked up so much we couldn't see her as she carried it to the truck bed.
When we finally got most of it off the ground, Kim drove across the pasture to the barn. Daniel and I got on the truck and pushed off the hay in huge heaps, and when we pushed the last heap, we fell into the manger on top of it, laughing all the way. Then everyone else jumped in.
There was the much colder Christmas Eve , when our friends the Clarks came over. A few inches of snow were frozen to the ground from a snowfall a few weeks earlier. We shared a candlelight meal at the table in the great room, close to the woodstove.
After dinner we made candles and ornaments with the beeswax, wicks and forms Melissa had brought from home. The children enjoyed this, delighted with their creations, and then they went sleigh riding. The green floodlight was on outside and they spent hours whizzing down the slick driveway and tugging the sleds back up. Every so often a child would come in, red-faced with cold and excitement, to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate, and then dash right out again.
Rachel remembers this as her favorite Christmas Eve, one she would like to live again.
What is it that transforms these ordinary events into something magical and memorable? Is "the true meaning of Christmas " really definable, solid, able to be grasped and held?
Can anyone explain how God came to Earth as the man Jesus, as one of us; surrounded by, as Walt Whitman says, "beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing (and I would add sweating, whining, sickly) flesh?" It is far-fetched. Can anyone understand how each of us is created in His image . . . making every birth, every life an incarnation?
To me, it is a mystery. And I find I must salvage my childhood imagination, my childhood faith and the "love I seemed to lose with my lost saints" -- Santa Claus, Mom and Dad and all the others through my life who've disappointed me -- to believe it.
The wise men brought gifts to the child Jesus, Emmanuel -- God with us -- and we, in turn, bring gifts to each other.
There is a doctrine that states God created man because he was lonely and wanted fellowship. Bah, Humbug! Would that not make God selfish and needy, a co-dependent kinda guy? It is simply a case of man making God in his image.
God is love, and the first thing I see him doing is creating -- Earth, sun, moon, stars, trees, birds, animals -- and he saw that it was good. Then he made man and woman, patterned after himself, to give it to.
I see God incarnate in my husband as he works in the garden, in my daughter Heidi when she paints still-lifes, in my friend Margie as she arranges dried flower bouquets, in my mother-in-law as she puts dinner on the table. I see the creator in my editor, (though he would deny any resemblance), when he explodes through the newsroom door in the morning and rustles open the paper to look at the page he created the day before. And he sees that is good.
I see God in my family as we create the Christmas tree -- an icon -- and in the faces of people -- who seem happier at Christmas, when they are being generous.
"The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything," said Lady Julian of Norwich.
As the sun sets on Christmas Eve the children start saying, "Light the candles, Mom, let's turn out the lights." And so we light the bayberry candles. The twinkling lights strung on the beam overhead faintly illuminate the transparent paper angels hanging there. The tree- and bell-shaped cookies, the cheeses and crackers, the eggnog, the breads and wine are brought and placed on the red and gold cloth-covered coffee table. The Christmas songs -- "Away In A Manger" and "Silent Night" -- play softly on the stereo, or I play them on my guitar.
In this gentle light we gather. I look on the radiant eyes, the contented smiles of the ones I love. To be here together is enough. Even our laughter seems hushed, hallowed.
As Spock would say, "It is not logical." But no matter.
It is a most holy night.