I was 17, a senior in high school and spending my first Christmas with my driver’s license. It was sometime after dark on Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the year. I was driving back from the store on that crisp and clear Christmas night with the stars sparkling like crystals against the stark black sky and I found myself entranced by the festively lit houses. Houses backed into thick wooded plots along winding roads that twisted up, down and around hills that wished to be mountains. Some house were elaborate and brights and seemed to illuminate the entire forests around them, inviting fairies and elves and Santa himself to come and play. Others were lit up just enough to remind you that the magic season found it’s way everywhere. The way the roads and woods and homes intermingled through this tangled section of North West New Jersey a lit up house would occasionally appear to be a lone dwelling casting a light of hope at the edge of civilization. From time to time, you could catch a single pine tree off in the distance, lit up with bright colorful bulbs, giving the impression that it was alone in the deep woods, having been decorated by the animals just like in the cartoons. There was always something so romantic about it.
I was enchanted by it…every time, every night. Wide-eyed and welcoming of the magic of the season with the ridiculous and wonderful Christmas music pumping through my soul. I pulled up in front of my house just as Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime came on the radio. I could see through the big bay window on the front of our house and it felt like I was gazing into a snow globe. Inside I could see my brothers, my sisters, my parents laughing and joking with the Christmas tree in the background.
I could see my mom preparing food, trying to make sure everyone had enough to eat. I could see my father standing among my brothers, sipping the Drambuie that usually only came out at Christmas. I couldn’t hear a single word or even a muffled of laugh, but I could see my two oldest brothers bouncing jokes off each other, one piling more laughter onto the previous quip…I could see the joy without hearing it. My older sister would join in from time to time, with a gentle, loving teasing and a wide smile.
I could see my other brother and younger sister laughing along as they eyed up the presents that lay scattered around on the floor. We were all adults, or at least practically adults, but there is still something alluring about the pile of presents. Perhaps they brought back memories of our childhood Christmas mornings when we still thought Santa was real instead of realizing it was really our parents that conjured up the magic of Christmas. Even as adults, I still see them as the kids we were on a long gone Christmas Eve morning, speculating on Santa and what he would bring us that night.
Honestly, I’m not sure if I actually saw all that on that Christmas Eve night. It is likely more of a compilation of fond Christmas memories rather than what I could actually see from the car from the road. However, I for sure could see my family laughing and having a Wonderful Christmastime as the song pumped through every fiber of my body, allowing me to feel the very real presences of the magic of Christmas. And even though 30 years have rolled on through, every time I hear that song, I am pulled back into that moment, surrounded by a starry night and Christmas lights, sitting in the car, peering through the darkness into the light and finding my family there. For the moment, I was on the outside looking in, but I believe the anticipation of joining that moment is what has burned it into my memory.
Now, every time I hear that song, my heart is filled again with the magic of that night, lights, music, laughter…all of it. In a weird way, that song is like the Ghost of Christmas Past, leading me back to Fezziwig’s window, reminding me of just how special Christmas is. It’s a wonderful echo from the past.