At our house, Christmas strikes like a meteor. Not one of those sneak-up-on-you-out-of-left-field, wake-up-one-day-and-discover-a-meteor’s-coming-for-lunch kind; no, this is one of those you can always see coming, the kind whose progress you can follow as it tracks its way towards you. But it looks so distant and so tiny for so long that it fails to register any alarm (in fact, I can already see next year’s meteor way out there in space, twinkling innocuously). By the time you’re ready to start taking it seriously, of course, it’s too late. That accelerating ball of rock is looming over you in the sky, trailing fire and smoke, dropping its advance shadow on your house, and you look up knowing there is nothing that can deflect its weighty mass from smashing into you.
At our house, the moment of impact is the same every year. 6:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve. We have a tradition of hosting a Christmas Eve party every year, a tradition that goes back to
Elizabeth’s parents, both of whom have since passed
away. The party, however, lives on, in
the same house (now our house) where it’s been happening since about 1982 or
Anyway, six o’clock is it. That’s when all preparations must cease. In years past, we have sometimes had a few moments to spare, when we would huddle together as a family in the eerie quiet, looking around in nervous anticipation, waiting for that meteor to explode all over us. The past few years, however, we’ve been attending Christmas Eve service at our church, and so miss out on that fleeting, weird tranquility, which is no big loss.
The meteor’s arrival is marked by the muted thud of car doors closing. Within seconds of that, the first of many shockwaves comes blowing through our doors. Within mere minutes, we are swept away by a surge of friends and family, pulled apart and lost amongst a roiling sea of merry-makers, often losing visual contact with each other for half-hours stretches at a time, even though we are all contained in three connected rooms within the same, modest ranch-style house. There may be fifty or more of us on any given Christmas Eve, bumping and ricocheting and pardoning each other, and a fair number of children, who, with an art long forgotten by us adults, weave nimbly through a dense forest of moving grown-up legs.