When I was a little kid, Christmas was busy, like, I think, Christmas tends to be for many people. I had a huge extended family that lived nearby—or nearby enough that we could go visit, but not so close that it was a no prep necessary jaunt.
We’d load up whatever vehicle my dad was smitten with at the time with boxes of food to contribute to the feasting, wrapped presents and snow clothes—and changes of clothes—and head down the highway, a fairytale drive of frozen white and blue, to Hazelton and Smithers.
Both sets of grandparents lived on big, out of the way farms, and I can’t remember green Christmases in either place, ever. We’d drive up, inevitably once night had fallen, and at either property, the effect was the same: magic. The long winding road that for the trip had seemed a snowy fantasy-realm—was suddenly transformed by warm yellow lights glowing in the darkness, brightening the snow, beckoning us in cheerily.
And when I was little, Christmas was loud.
From the moment we were out of the truck and the door of the house was thrown open and a din of voices greeted us, the noise never ceased ‘til we left.
And I adored it. I come from a long lineage of arguers, game players, big eaters, big talkers and big jokers. Our gatherings were, at least to me, the epitome of festive. Us kids would, literally, scream ourselves hoarse playing games like Pit and Risk.
I remember the year it changed—or perhaps “changed” is too strong; “developed” is better. My idea of an ideal Christmas developed a quieter side.
I was eleven or twelve and my Grandma Higginson, who owned a floral shop for many years, sent me a pre-Christmas present—a miniature Christmas tree that stood about 2 feet tall and was factory strung with tiny bright multi-coloured lights that twinkled.
I was entering an era (er . . . or, short-lived phase) where I kept my bedroom immaculately tidy, and I don’t think I can adequately convey the pleasure I derived from decorating my room with that little tree. I placed it on an antique wooden desk I used for writing letters and the like (I really haven’t changed that much in 28 years!), and bought little gifts with my babysitting money, which I wrapped and placed beneath the tree. I purchased my first Christmas album (Amy Grant’s cleverly titled “A Christmas Album”—still one of my all-time favourite carol collections).
Thus started my own small tradition. Playing games, eating, laughing and massacring carols were still some of my favourite ways to ring in Christmas—but I decided I should spend time in quiet contemplation, too. I’d hide out in my room after everyone else had gone to bed or was eating yet again, with eggnog and a journal, planning out my new year in advance.
And it’s a tradition I’ve kept. My family is still loud—though not nearly so big as it used to be—and we all love to eat, argue, and play games into the wee hours, but I still sneak away—or stay up for a bit after the others have gone to bed—to dream by the tree and jot down thoughts and plans by the soft twinkling glow of the sparkling Christmas tree.
I’d thought I wasn’t feeling into Christmas this year, and who knows, maybe a noisy one won’t have much appeal, but I am looking forward to the quiet—Ah, who am I kidding? I’ve already told one of my brothers to bring his Just Dance games for the Wii and that him and me, plus siblings, spouses, nieces and nephews will have a dance off party.
So . . . it will be loud and crazy and my family and I will miss the people we miss and celebrate the ones we’re with—but I’ll seek out my quiet corner eventually, to think and pray and just to be. I hope you find a peaceful spot to be this holiday, too.
“Quiet Christmas” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, December 19, 2012 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”