Memories are the gems of life’s jewelry. Real or rhinestone, they are precious just the same. Some shine brilliantly through the years, others dull and decay. Brought out to wear or locked away, they nevertheless persist. Holidays are often the settings for these jewels, Christmas being the most splendid, weighted as it is with cultural meaning and expectations. The ritual of family coming together, the hope for the perfect gift to give or receive, can’t help but make it memorable.
Born a week before Christmas, I must designate my first one as momentous if not particularly memorable. The next few years are a blur too, though photos of me smiling beneath a tinsel-covered tree suggest I was having a merry Christmas indeed. The year I received a huge stack of books, though, is my first truly indelible Christmas memory. My own books. That I didn’t have to return to the library. To this day I still own the original copies of David Copperfield, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Oliver Twist, and the Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes. Their well-worn spines never fail to conjure that holiday.
The first Christmas I spent with my first boyfriend was another special Christmas. I don’t remember the gifts we exchanged. Knowing I was loved was better than any sweater or pair of earrings.
There isn’t a parent who doesn’t believe the first Christmas after the birth of each child is the most magical, beautiful, splendiferous holiday ever. Even if you’re sleep-deprived and have a permanent puke stain on your shoulder. Even if you barely remembered it was Christmas. Even if all the following Christmases are a whirl, searching for that obscure dinosaur from the Jurassic Park collection or keeping track of a Dear Santa letter which is revised daily. And baking cookies. Baking lots and lots of cookies.
Having never received an engagement ring (Poor grad students have more essential items to spend their money on. Like food.), I dissolved into a puddle of tears when my husband of ten years gave me the most gorgeous diamond ring ever to grace the hand of any woman alive. Really and truly.
After years of renting, Christmas in the first house we ever bought was especially thrilling. The kids had the flu, the dog threw up on the rug, but, hey, we were homeowners, complete with mortgage and maintenance.
If your memories are made of firsts, they are also comprised of lasts. The last Christmas we shared with loved ones no longer with us. The last Christmas in a house we’d lived in for many years. The Christmas before or after the kids left the nest for good.
But then, there are other people who enter our lives, another house becomes a home, the kids return, if only for visits, with their own friends and families. With any luck, they include a burping baby who has yet to discover dinosaurs and Christmas cookies.