The tree is up and ornamented, stockings have been de-boxed and are waiting to be draped over the fireplace the Children drew on a cardboard box (it's quite a good fireplace actually and certainly did the trick on St Nicholas's day). An enormous number of almonds have been blanched, skinned, toasted and candied and a reasonable number have even survived the inevitable nibbling so they can be given away. There are possibly some Christmas crackers stashed somewhere for pulling on The Day so the entire family can be suitably adorned with an ill-fitting paper crown (until they tear/crumple/fall off which is also traditional). Shopping is complete - but then I said that several days ago and I have been to at least one store every day since.
It is the last day of work, the last day of school before the holiday really begins. Time for a deep breath; time for the fuss and bother to subside.
This year we will be staying home on Christmas day. Children 1 and 3 are going to a winter encampment starting on the 26th and Child 2 has a house-sitting job that will cover the same time frame so there will be a fair amount of packing and scrambling but hopefully also a lot of peace and simple quiet.
Christmas Eve will be spent at the Grandparent's house. Their neighborhood is a major attraction on that particular night because each house lines its walkways and drives with dozens of luminarias. We spend the afternoon setting out the brown paper bags and dropping a single candle into each one. Just at dusk the Children go out with long candles and lighters and carefully set about lighting. The trick is to light the candle and seat it firmly in its sand bed without scorching yourself or setting the paper bag on fire. The Children are always eager for the challenge.
Already the streets will be lined with slow-moving cars; it's impossible to get in or out of a driveway until midnight. Inevitably several of the tourists will take pictures of the flickering lights using their flash cameras. I always wonder what they think when they get home to admire their beautiful photos of rows of brown paper bags.
Some of the neighbors will bring out portable fire pits and groups of people walking the streets will gather around for a few minutes to warm their hands and talk. Many of the homes will be hosting parties and the doors will open now and then and let out bursts of laughter and the enticing smell of posole or tamales. The Children will run in and out of the various houses: Child 1 dragged next door by two young admirers, Child 2 disappearing with its friend and the friend's beguiling puppies, Child 3 buzzing indiscriminately from one to the other to see which offers the most entertainment at the moment.
At some point my mother will bring out the small leather strap of sleigh bells and round up as many bodies as possible to walk the crowded streets. As the Children have grown the attraction of the tour has changed: the simple pleasure of thousands of warm candle lights with each child having stop at every bag and peer down at the candle inside, the delight in finding bags that had caught fire and were burnt down to their sand base, the fun of shouting the first verse of any number of carols only to subside to a mumble as soon as the second, unfamiliar verse is reached. Now, full circle, they are old enough to love the charm of the lights themselves again.
Finally after too many cookies and too much cocoa, when the candles in the bags are guttering out one by one we will drag Child 2 away from its friend and round up the scattered coats and gloves and hats. The streets will still be half full of cars as we make our way back home and the Children will be chattering and laughing half the time, then lapsing into silence unexpectedly. At home the stockings will be artistically arranged, then rearranged and probably bolstered with notes or clever drawings. Child 1 will head maturely to its bed, Child 3 will pester Child 2, throw cushions, erupt into sudden and inexplicable noise and will finally be stuffed firmly into its room and have the door shut on its exuberance. Finally peace will descend.
Happy Holidays all.