It’s nearly 2:00 a.m. and I’m exhausted. I want to go to bed but I can’t, I won’t let myself.
Light snowflakes are just starting to fall from the sky and it’s one of those perfect winter nights where it’s not completely dark outside, but it’s as if a light grey sheet has been canopied across the entire city. Like myself, Chicago is also refusing to sleep tonight.
I’m sitting in the warm glow of my Christmas tree and Frank Sinatra is singing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas in the background. Other than Old Blue Eyes, the house is as calm and quiet as it looks outside and I’m sitting alone. Just me and my tree.
I’m making myself stay up because the moment is too good to let go of right now. This happens to me every year once the tree goes up, this weird desire to stay up extra late just to be in its company for as long I can. The season feels fleeting to me even before it arrives, like it’s already begun to slip through my fingers once the first wreath is hung. I’ve felt this way about the holidays for as long as I can remember. Christmas turns me into a hopeless romantic in the best/worst kind of way.
But even as I write this I know it’s not just my tree I’m trying to soak up. It’s everything. It’s the Bing Crosby songs, and the McCallisters running through the airport. It’s the red velvet bows tied neatly on doors, and the glowing lights outlining every brownstone for as long as the eye can see. The apple spice floating in the air, and the black iron fences wearing green scarves of garland on every block. All of these things make me feel like I’m wrapped in a warm blanket of nostalgia everywhere I turn.
And it makes me so happy.
But there’s also this feeling of sadness that sneaks in this time of year, as well. I can’t pinpoint what it is exactly, but I know enough to realize that nostalgia never travels alone. And perhaps sadness isn’t even the right word. Because when I think of being sad I often think of feeling empty. And right now what I feel is anything but empty.
I hear Christmas from ten years ago simply by listening to Run Run Rudolph on the radio. I taste my childhood when I eat a peanut butter cookie with a chocolate kiss in the middle. I feel it when I touch the gold handprint ornament that hangs on my parent’s Christmas tree that I made in the second grade. Year after year, when that ornament would come out I would stick my fingers in it to see how much bigger my hand had grown. It was my time stamp. First my finger tips no longer fit. And then my fingers didn’t, either. At some point my palm folded over it completely, like my hand had never been that small in the first place.
It’s as if this is the one time of year when I force myself to slow down and catch my breath- usually in the middle of night in the glow of my tree… And when I do, I’m reminded how fast time goes. How fleeting not just this season is, but everything.
How life changes so quickly from one year to the next. And somehow the small things in life secretly grow into the big things without our notice, or even our permission.
The memories that feel like they happened just a few years ago are actually already twenty years behind me. The Christmas mornings from my childhood when I would run down the stairs before the sun had even risen to see what Santa brought me just keep getting further and further away.
So each year I clutch on to them a little harder. It’s not just the handprint that worked as my time stamp, but it’s all of Christmas when I really think about it.
So perhaps that’s where the longing comes in, the urge to hold on to these moments a little longer. Because I know if I don’t, they’ll be gone.
And twenty years from now this will be one of those “Christmas memories” I look back on and wish I could relive. If only for a night or two, sitting by the quiet glow of our Christmas tree, in our cozy Chicago apartment.
*originally posted about three years ago, edited just slightly for today, feelings and nostalgia remain untouched.