Robert’s Column: Fantasia on a Theme of Christmas

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When I was about 9 years old or thereabouts, I read the book The House Without a Christmas Tree, by Gail Rock.

It’s a heartwarming (some might call it saccharine) tale, of the kind that often characterizes holiday stories. Addie is a young girl living with her father after her mother’s death, and has never had a Christmas tree in her home, simply because her father won’t allow it.

She brings home a Christmas tree from school, which makes her father so upset that she eventually has to give it away. Addie learns that her father is haunted by the death in childbirth of his Christmas-tree-loving wife, and he can’t bear to be reminded of her. The determined Addie eventually prevails on her father’s emotions, gets a Christmas tree, the father gets a good grief counselor, and all ends well.

Why do I bring up this unusually melancholy story, dear Reader? Because, in a way, I felt somewhat like Addie did. Not exactly the same—I have been fortunate enough to always celebrate the Christmas season with a Christmas tree in my living room, and both my parents are alive and well. No, I tell this story because I did not, and still do not, live in a house with many of the conventional trappings of Christmas: no fireplace with a mantel over it to hang stockings, and, most significantly, no snow. Living in Southern California means that I have never experienced those twin gods of Christmas: snow and ice (apart from a brief, extremely exciting sojourn in Switzerland this past July, of all times and places). I have never gone sledding, or ice-skating, or skiing, or made a snowman, or gotten into a snowball fight, or done any of the extremely diverting, exciting things that books and media have portrayed as being part of the Christmas season.

December creates a distinct mental persuasion, conjuring up a vision of walking through deep, dark forests of evergreen trees to reach a cabin in the snow. It suggests an image of picking holly and mistletoe from beautiful verdant bushes in crisp snow. Most importantly, it brings a comforting thought: that after spending all day out in the snow, having had the time of one’s life in a snowball fight of epic proportions, one can come in and sit by a roaring fire, break into a rousing chorus of “Good King Wenceslas” and enjoy a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

Don’t try to tell me about how to properly spend the winter—my mind is filled with romanticized ideas about the fourth season. Therein lies my problem: he who imagines fantasies is due for a rude awakening.

Spurred by these visions, I have applied to colleges situated primarily on the East Coast, where I hope to indulge my so-long-hoped-for obsession with snow scenes. I have spoken to countless alumni, teachers and current students who have attended those holly-hallowed New England universities, and most have told me the same thing, which reduces to this: snow is exciting for the first week one is in it, then it settles into a frigid nothingness that saps the life out of him.

Those who are accustomed to and aware of how inhospitable “true” winter is are likely already laughing at my naiveté right now and thinking, rightly, that I have absolutely no idea what is in store for me. I suppose you might be right. Can I maintain the stamina and inner furnace necessary to survive in a frost-laden winter? Only time will tell.

In the end though, I must admit: it isn’t ice and holly that makes the season what it is. I’ve spent 18 happy Decembers without ever once having built a snowman, but that doesn’t make my experiences any less than those fortunate to have grown up around the miracle of frozen water.

I have realized what Addie did. What makes Christmas for me is spending time with my family, for despite this seeming clichéd response, it really is the truth—I look forward to the holidays with the warmth of both the people and the climate of home.

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