This is my idea of the perfect fantasy Christmas. First of all, no one asks me if I’m “ready for Christmas” before Christmas Eve, and we spend a lovely, restful Advent the way it should be spent, in waiting and quiet preparation. Christmas begins a few days early with a Tree Fairy who comes on the winter solstice and erects and decorates a gorgeous tree in our warm and cozy home, which is maintained by the Housekeeping Fairy. My husband Bob and I don’t have to disagree over where to get the tree, which tree to choose, who forgot to label the good and bad lights from last year, which is the side of the tree to face forward, how best to string the lights, etc. Once the tree arrives, we spend very evening prior to Christmas Eve by a real fire in the fireplace reading old-fashioned Christmas tales like A Christmas Carol.
On Christmas Eve, neither of us has to work. I make egg nog (my great-grandmother Wood’s recipe). We each have a small bowl of oyster stew (which Bob doesn’t hate) and a glass of egg nog before we head over to spend a few hours at our friends’ Christmas Eve open house in Intercourse, PA. Then, we walk to a beautiful, centuries-old church for a midnight mass, for which my husband isn’t the least bit responsible. This church is located somewhere in England. The service is one of Lessons and Carols, the carols led by the Vienna Boys’ Choir, and the sermon is one that inspires us to discuss it all the way on the walk home. Once home, we each pour ourselves a glass of egg nog and exchange one gift before going to bed by candlelight.
On Christmas morning, we get up to discover a raging blizzard outside. We light the fire and open the Christmas stockings Santa has filled for us, and he knows us well, having delivered mostly books and candy. Then, we sit down to a breakfast that includes stollen (one can only hope it is made by Sharon Stiener, who gave many a delicious stollen to the Michie family when I was growing up). By noon, the snow is still gently falling, but it is nice enough to join family members and best friends at someone’s brownstone in NYC for a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner prepared by someone who loves to cook such feasts and doesn’t consider it to be a chore at all. For dessert, there is pecan pie made by my mother with plenty of whipped cream. Afterwards, everyone takes a walk up 5th Avenue to view the shop windows and to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. Bob and I return home to exchange another gift over glasses of egg nog, on this, the first day of Christmas.
During the next eleven days of Christmas, Bob and I spend lots of time visiting family and friends, eating delicious food, telling great stories, laughing uproariously with those who have similar senses of humor. We spend the rest of the time in front of the fire and tree reading books and eating candy we’ve gotten as gifts. Each night, we exchange one gift with each other, twelve in all. The only exception is New Year’s Eve, when we enjoy a festive ringing in of the New Year with James and Elizabeth at Red Sky Restaurant in Southwest Harbor, ME. On the day after Epiphany, the Tree Fairy comes and takes down the tree, carts it away, and promises to be back next year.
That’s the fantasy, which is a vast improvement over Christmas 2014. Christmas 2014 went as follows. I began to get sick in the middle of the night Dec. 2 – Dec. 3. For the most part, I stayed in bed on Dec. 3 and thought I was much better on December 4 when Bob and I went to see the Tedeschi Trucks at the Keswick Theater in Glenside. By the afternoon of Dec. 5th, I was feeling lousy and feverish again, but I had to cashier at the church bazaar for a couple of hours on Dec. 6th and had to be at church on Dec. 7th for the Christmas play practice (I was one of the Magi). I thought I was finally feeling better on Dec. 8th and went to work. The rest of the week is a bit of a feverish blur. I made it to the one and only Amish wedding to which I’ll probably ever be invited, but I had to miss my favorite work event (the library volunteer tea) on Dec. 12th, by which time Bob was getting sick, and that day we also found out that a dear member of our congregation had died.
Instead of going Christmas caroling as planned, after play practice on Dec. 14th, I accompanied Bob to a little party for the baby he’d just baptized, did a quick grocery shop, then collapsed and slept all afternoon before leading the youth group’s Christmas party. I stayed in bed all morning on the 15th, then got up to do stuff before I had to be at work. Feeling a bit better on the 16th, I went Christmas shopping. I thought I was finally on the mend, energy coming back, and I crossed a lot off my to-do list on Dec. 17th before Bob and I went to see “Annie” at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center, where we have season tickets (it was superb!). Yet again, that set me back. I was able to work on the 18th, but since Bob was also very sick, and he had to officiate at the funeral on Friday, we had to postpone seeing one of the kids of the church perform at the Christmas extravaganza at The American Music Theatre. Sometime during that week, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to bother with Christmas cards this year.
Friday arrived, and along with it came a pain in the right side of my chest, which didn’t make sense. It felt like a pulled muscle, but my cough had been getting better, and unless I’d coughed very hard in my sleep without waking up at all, I couldn’t imagine how I’d pulled a muscle. Both Bob and I were sad and somber and sick, preparing for the funeral. Then, just before the funeral, Bob received more bad news. Our next door neighbor, another dear member of the congregation, had died. By this point, Bob was sicker than I was, so I’d taken over the task of walking Clare the dachshund in the unpredictable warm/cold weather, the sort of weather that pneumonia, according to legend, just loves. I made it through the funeral, which I didn’t realize until I was in the midst of it was our first funeral since my father died over the summer. It was hard. I almost left. After the funeral luncheon, Bob collapsed for the afternoon before getting back to work on Sunday’s service. I didn’t. I felt my energy coming back. I got more stuff checked off my to-do list. The next day, Dec. 20th, I did some more Christmas shopping and went to work before an evening of pizza-eating and cookie-baking with the church youth in preparation for the Secret Santa party they were hosting after church the next day.
Church and the Secret Santa party rang in the true spirit of Christmas. I was feeling more energetic than ever. The chest pain seemed to be going away. Bob was still sick as a dog, but he visited the grieving family next door, and a funeral was planned for Christmas Eve morning. I worked on Dec. 22, had an annual mammogram appointment on Dec. 23, and was feeling much better that day, finishing my Christmas shopping and greeting my brother-in-law when he arrived. I attended the final dress rehearsal for the Christmas play that evening. By the time I went to bed that night, though, I realized my cough was coming back, and the pain in my chest was still there.
We, somehow, made it through another funeral and luncheon on Dec. 24. Then I spent the rest of the day wrapping presents and making egg nog, and feeling very sad, as I got in touch with my siblings, about the first Christmas without my father. I couldn’t even listen to The Messiah (one of his favorites), which I usually love to do on Christmas Eve. The early Christmas Eve service was great fun with the Christmas play a success. My brother-in-law, Bob, and I came home to discover that Clare the dachshund had managed to get upstairs (despite a gate) and had eaten half the fudge I’d had bought and wrapped as a gift for Bob (earlier in the day, she’d found and eaten some special sugar I’d gotten him for his stocking). An online search revealed that if it were going to kill her, she would’ve died immediately, but that she would probably be sick. She seemed okay, though, and there was no time to stay with her. We headed off to the annual Christmas Eve party we attend and then to the late-night service, by which point, I realized my cough had come back with a vengeance.
Bob and I arrived home from the late night service around 12:30 to discover that Clare had thrown up all over the living room, including on one of the chairs. We had to clean it up and strip the chair covers off the chair and get them in the wash before we could even think about going to bed. We fell into bed around 2:00 a.m., and around 5:30 a.m., I woke up feeling sick as a dog myself. Soon, I developed a migraine, which ruined any idea of gift exchanges on Christmas morning, as we planned to meet family for lunch in Lititz — a half-hour drive away — at 12:30. I was in bed until 11:00, when I rallied. The headache was gone, but not the cough. Still, we managed to enjoy a lovely Christmas dinner, before coming home and collapsing in bed, yet again. Christmas gifts were exchanged in the evening (stockings almost forgotten) before another night in which Emily was sick as a dog, coughing uncontrollably and losing her voice.
Dec. 26: I had to miss our annual breakfast at Waffle House before my brother-in-law headed home. I stayed in bed all day, with no voice, pretty much hating Christmas 2014 and hoping I’d be well enough to go to the American Music Theatre show on the 27th, the one we’d postponed last week. Silver lining: I was! And now I’m in vacation mode. We leave tomorrow. A first: every room in our house looks (as my father would say) like the Devil had a fit in it. I’m leaving it, and will deal with it when I get home.