In honor of Christmas, I'm giving you a section from a (much longer) performance piece I wrote a few years ago. It's a response, of sorts, to Dylan Thomas' A Child's Christmas in Wales.
It sounds better when read aloud, so you'll have to imagine me reading it. Conversely, you could read it aloud yourself.
Preemptive Editor's Note: When Blue writes "literary non-fiction" about her hometown, she calls it "Kirkland." When spoken aloud, please swallow the last syllable so that it becomes "Kirklnd," because that's how us Midwesterners would say it.
At 5 p.m. Christmas Eve the church bells start to ring. Families park their cars the length of a city block, though few people live far enough away that they actually have to drive. The air smells quiet, sharp, a little cold. There is an enveloping sensation; a strange combination of peaceful and exciting which I still feel, even though I am no longer a child. It is the sudden collision of the holy night with the celebration; the witnessing of the Savior with the parties and gifts and sweets and wine and presents to follow. We all hope that the sermon will not be too long.
Everyone is dressed in their best clothes; little girls running around in red velvet and petticoats, young couples in chinos and turtlenecks, old women in stumpy heels against thick, tan stockings. The narthex is dark, and the sanctuary is dark, and we are each given a candle when we go inside.
Since we are Methodists, the minister changes regularly, and so the service itself varies – the sublime is all too easily interspersed with the ridiculous, as it was the year when a well-meaning minister baked blueberry and chocolate chip muffins for Communion, in an attempt to make it special for the children. There are usually several performances by my mother’s piano students, all tripping to the piano in shiny shoes and curled hair, getting at least three out of every four notes correct. There was a debate, for many years, over including the secular carols alongside the hymns; but our congregation is an open-minded one, and so we now hear “Jingle Bells” in church, along with “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.” (To be fair, “Jingle Bells” is a lot easier for a six-year-old to play.)
The services all end the same way, though – with Communion in the semi-darkness, and then complete darkness as the first candle is lit from the Christ Candle and the light is allowed to spread throughout the sanctuary. We sing “Silent Night,” a capella, and process with our lit candles until we are outside. Then it is a bustle of coats and saying hello to people we haven’t seen since last Christmas, and then off to our across-the-street neighbors for eggnog and chocolate-covered pretzels and red-and-green Hershey’s kisses stacked on top of marshmallow snowmen.
Then back home for the presents – we open ours Christmas Eve because we are a family of late sleepers, and up until two a.m. admiring (or mocking) the gifts and all are asleep until at least eleven the next morning, although Santa always conspires to leave some kind of trinket (a Pez dispenser or a bag of Vitamin C candy) in our stockings for us to find when we wake.Christmas Day dinner is around three p.m., the first proper meal of the day, and at our house it is lasagna because my sister loves lasagna (and, really, we all do). Then back to naps or playing with the presents or reading the books or writing the letters to the people who are not with us… writing to say my dear one, Merry Christmas, and wouldn’t I love for you to see it with me, here in Kirkland, where you could walk down to the river or sit in the hushed and expectant church or chase the toddlers around a marshmallow-fudge-eggnog dining room table or unwrap the Chia Heads or go up and stand in a room lit by electric candlelight, looking out the window at the dome of Kirkland College’s administrative building, the dome on which perches a giant, glowing, electric star to shine its light over our tiny town, to pierce through Dylan Thomas’ close and holy darkness, as if to say “wise men – kings from more important lands – on your way through your life’s journey, on the way to find your own purpose and salvation – stop here.”