Another Christmas Story
by Laura Koennecke
Bright red mittens and peppermint candy. The bracket Pa made Ma for her china, with its hand-carved curlicues and crescent moons. This is Christmas, I like to think.
As we approach the holiday season, the picture of the Christmas I feel I need to create is shaped in large part by books: Little House in the Big Woods, Little Women, and the lesser known Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.
My heart broke a little when I realized my daughter, Anna, didn’t share my love of these kinds of books. She loves a good hero quest, the more broken and conflicted the protagonist, the better. A map at the front of a book is always a good sign, and dragons are a bonus.
It made me wonder why I loved my poor little families. It became clear that their appeal wasn’t in their poverty, but in what they did for each other. In a nutshell, it was their Christmas stories. They fought the scarcity and darkness of winter with warmth and light and community.
The authors, through the families they shared with us, created what I imagine to be hygge, the comradery and coziness cherished in Danish homes and amongst friends. As readers, we can wrap ourselves in the warm embrace of a quilt that was carefully sewn by Laura and Mary at a quilting bee.
When the March girls of Little Women brought their Christmas breakfast to the hungry German immigrant family, they lit a fire and brought warmth and friendship to the home.
Polly and Ben Pepper created a Christmas for their younger siblings by bringing in a tree from outside and decorating it with popcorn and nuts wrapped in bits of bright paper. And they convinced their mother to give them leftover nubs of candles to brighten it. They have memories of better times and want to share those with the little ones.
Sometimes, in adult life, I find moments of soul warmth – the smell of wood burning in fireplaces that evokes images of warm hearths drawing families together, or the way headlights and holiday lights reflect on wet streets in winter. In these moments, decades wash away.
When I was a child, malls were being built everywhere. The closest one to us – in Fayetteville, New York – had a store that’s marquee was a wall of golden-hued lights. At night, Sibley’s glowed like a harvest moon but in a season of snow and short days.
Just before Christmas in those years, Dad would finish up chores in the barn a little early; we’d have a quick dinner, then head out to shop for Mom’s gift. We would climb into the station wagon – as many of us kids who were home and could fit – to go to the mall for Dad’s one and only shopping trip each year. The space between the back seat and the rear-facing third seat was my prime real estate. We’d drive to Fayetteville Mall with its beckoning wall of light.
There was something magical about going out at night in the winter, against the inclination to stay inside, to approach the light and energy of bustling shoppers. There was something magical about going on this adventure with my Dad.
I’m less inclined to go to the mall now. I more look forward to places like Jay Street – a fellowship of independent businesses, coffee shops, antiques and arts, with its brick pedestrian walkway and cobbled paths for skipping. It’s Schenectady’s Diagon Alley – the magical street in Harry Potter’s world – with its quirky store fronts and buildings of a certain age.
Now Harry Potter, this was a series that Anna and I read and loved together. Underneath all the epic battles and mythical creatures, J. K. Rowling created warmth and community and gave Harry a family. The big, loud, crazy Weasley family, with its misshapen hand-knit Christmas sweaters and no money, meant more to Harry than his piles of gold at Gringotts.
And Christmas always comes back to family – the ones we started with or the ones we pulled near to us – and the memories we create together.
I wonder what my 5-year-old will remember – maybe the cobbled street or the brightly lit window displays that reveal themselves as dusk settles or the warmth of hot chocolate chasing away the chill. Alas, it probably won’t be last year’s homemade snow globe that leaked all over the mantel and was quietly thrown away. (Thanks, Pinterest.)
Maybe he’ll remember going with his Dad to pick out my gift, and the way they conspired to sneak it back in the house without me knowing. Or maybe it will be the time that he and Anna, separated in age by 14 years, sat together painting green icing on sugar cookie trees way past his bedtime.
A few years ago, when my parents were downsizing, they had a garage sale. Drawers, closets and shelves were emptied onto tables, jarring memories loose from the deep storage of our minds. My sister Kris and I saw the Ziploc bag full of cookie cutters. Neither of us was going to let those get sold. So many of our memories are caught up in the preparation and in the anticipation that what we are doing will bring happiness to someone we love and in the moments that allow us to step outside the mundane.
It’s as likely as not that presents will end up on a garage sale table someday, but memories of shopping with my Dad and rolling out hundreds of leaping reindeer and lopsided angel cookies with my sisters and Mom, who didn’t even flinch when I tripled the already tripled recipe, will remain. The warm glow of the time we spent together will remain, and the glow is what matters.
Although that doesn’t mean I’m above dropping some heavy hints about the handmade bag in the bookstore on Jay Street.
About Laura Koennecke
Laura Koennecke has been writing and editing for about 15 years, though never under her own name. Her writing has been recognized through a recent Yelp “Review of the Day” and several well liked Facebook status updates. Another Christmas Story is her first attempt at “someday I’m going to write about this.” One of her biggest joys is reading to her kids.
Links to books mentioned in this post:
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