Christmas Present, Christmas Past

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Chrismast past in Woodstock. Image: Luke H. Gordon via Creative Commons

Back in New York, we had a Christmas tradition of sorts. We would shop furiously in the last weeks before Christmas, mostly online, but sometimes in stores as well. (We did the frantic Walmart-on-Christmas-Eve thing a couple of times, but that gets old fast.)

Christmas Eve, if Bill’s daughter Alyssa wasn’t hosting a gathering (it’s also her birthday) we would watch Santa arrive on the Woodstock Village Green. For those of you not from Ulster County, it’s a thing–Santa arrives on the Green at 5 pm on Christmas Eve, Woodstock time, which means anywhere between 5:15 and 5:45. Every year it’s different. In past years he’s arrived by elephant and camel (real) hang glider (suspended from a crane), giant dove that landed on a giant guitar (in honor of the Woodstock Festival symbol), flying VW minibus, and this year, although we weren’t there, he apparently arrived by pirate ship in the pouring rain.

After Santa, we’d return home to frantic candy-making or baking, and then present wrapping. I’d sit on the living room floor, surrounded by paper, ribbons, and tape, constantly misplacing and re-finding my scissors, with a Christmas movie playing on Netflix. Bill would stand at the dining table with his own scissors and tape, we’d get an assembly line going, and usually wouldn’t get finished until much too late at night.

The next morning we’d wake, bleary-eyed, drag ourselves to the car, and race up to Catskill or Albany or Freehold or Medusa, depending on where the kids and grandkids were gathering. Sometimes we’d bop from one to the other if they weren’t all in the same place. I would start out grumpy, feeling put out, and wishing we could just have a quiet Christmas at home, but by the end of a day spent handing out presents to kids, unwrapping some of our own, and eating way too many sweets, I would feel festive and content.

But that was there and this is here. A year ago, the racing around we did was far enough before Christmas for us to send huge boxes, one to Bill’s daughter’s house, one to Bill’s son’s house, filled with presents we’d either bought locally or ordered online in time to pack up. This fall was so crazy that we didn’t get it together to do that and wound up sending presents purchased online directly to their recipients, and also a box of extra doodads and gift cards that in each case arrived on the day after Christmas. We spent Christmas with the friends who inspired our move out here, friends so close they are almost like family. No presents by prior agreement. But we missed the kids and grandkids back in the East.

Last year it didn’t bother me; we’d only just moved. This year, even though we’d spent a lot of time with Steve’s family in August and Alyssa’s family in October, it bugged me a lot. Christmas felt decidedly un-Christmasy and the relentlessly rainy Western Washington weather didn’t help. It would have been silly to fly home for Christmas when we’d been there less than two months earlier after Mom died. (Maybe that’s another thing that made Christmas not feel like Christmas.) But…next year?

Part of me likes the idea of going–I’m training myself not to say “home”–back to New York for Christmas. But then again, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss New Year’s here, which was so nice that I dragged myself to two parties with a bad cold and had a great time anyway. The Hungry Pelican, where the old Hawthorne crowd now congregates for its Thursday night open mic and jam, had a heckuva nice New Year’s party and most of the Snohomish gang was there. There was great food, even better music, and a champagne and a lot of noisemakers and streamers at midnight.

I wouldn’t want to miss that next year. I guess this is what comes of having one foot in two places that each in its way feels like home. Christmas 2016 in New York, New Year’s in Snohomish…? Something to contemplate.

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