When I was a child, my family wasn’t much into celebrations. In fact, it was quite the opposite. My mom was usually in a Jack Daniels stupor, holiday or not. My dad lived far away and never sent presents or even cards. My step-dad’s annual Christmas gift to me was a shoebox filled with pencils, tape, and other office supplies because he claimed that I always borrowed his and never gave them back.
Sad, I know. But I more than made up for this
deprivation by becoming a total celebration-aholic as an adult. Here is a quick rundown:
*I make a HUGE big deal out of
birthdays—mine, my husband’s, and our childrens’. I insist on celebrating birthday weeks and, on occasion,
birthday months. Half birthdays, too. Jens knows to check in with me long before my actual birthday
to find out what I’d like on the day of:
a party, an intimate dinner with close friends, a cake made by our
five-year-old, or a romantic evening out.
Or all of the above spread out over the month of April.
*When it comes to gift-bearing
immortal beings, we not only have Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny in our
house, but the Valentine’s Day Fairy and the Birthday Fairy, too. They all leave notes in curly,
old-fashioned handwriting that looks nothing like mine, and presents wrapped in
unfamiliar paper that looks nothing like the paper on the other presents.
*Weeks before a major holiday or the
like, our five year-old, Clara, and I decorate like crazy. Emphasis on “crazy.” I once swore I would never shop at A.
C. Moore, but that ship sailed long ago.
Included on the list are birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween,
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.
I’m sure that at some point, we’ll be adding Groundhog Day and Arbor Day.
*I love to organize Easter egg
hunts! When our son Christopher
and his friends got too old for candy-filled eggs, I used folded-up dollar
bills instead. They were pretty
*Over the years, our family has
adopted lots of Christmas traditions.
Every December, Jens, Christopher, Clara, and I go out and each choose
one new ornament for the tree. (I
got this from Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. Of course, Clara has learned to
scam us by claiming that our cats need an ornament, too … and so does our bunny
… and so does her stuffed bear …) We hide a pickle ornament in
the tree for the children.
(Whoever finds it gets an extra present.) We read The Night
Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.
We always watch White Christmas
as a family. Jens being Swedish, he makes a holiday smorgasbord for a big group, complete with rice pudding that contains a
single blanched almond. (Whoever
gets the almond wins the marzipan pig and is the next to be married.)
*And last but not least, we have Christopher's first Carnegie Hall performance, his college acceptances, his high school graduation, and his first day at Juilliard. Needless to say, these types of milestones
were/are/always will be observed with appropriate fanfare (as well as much maternal
weeping, most of it happy).
That all being said …
I had one of my best celebrations
this fall, and it didn’t follow the usual pattern of exuberance and excess. It happened on October 12th, which was Jens’ and
my tenth wedding anniversary.
Up until then, 2013 had been a
pretty sucky year. I was still undergoing treatment after being hit by a car in
2012. In July, Jens almost died from a rare illness. In September,
my dad passed away, unexpectedly and before I’d had a chance to make my peace
On October 11th, Jens
had outpatient surgery to have his pacemaker removed. (The abovementioned illness had required an emergency
pacemaker insertion, which his doctors now wanted to reverse.) So we knew he wouldn’t be up for a
major celebration on the 12th.
Besides which, neither of us was in a particularly boisterous mood after
the past few months.
On the morning of the 12th,
I woke up with a dour “do I really have to get up and face this day?” attitude.
Likewise, Jens was uncomfortable
from his surgery and stressed about stuff in general. We were clearly slated to have a
Then this wonderful,
out-of-the-blue idea hit me. As we were lying in bed and listening to Clara clamoring
for breakfast/TV/toys, I leaned over and said to Jens: “Just for today, let’s forget about everything bad. Let’s just be really, really happy and
enjoy our anniversary.”
With that statement, I actually felt the chemicals rearrange themselves
in my brain and send me into a state of calm and bliss. Jens said he felt it, too. For the rest of the day, we were both in
a joyful mood, simply because we had decided to make it so. We didn’t have a party; we didn’t
exchange presents; we didn’t even open a bottle of champagne. We just celebrated in our hearts and
with each other as we went through what was otherwise a very ordinary day.
I wish I could invoke this simple
mental magic all the time. I haven’t quite achieved that level of
Still, during this month of
festivities, exuberance, and excess, I will try hard to remember what happened
on October 12th. And as
I watch White Christmas, eat rice
pudding, and ghostwrite for Santa, I know exactly what I will be celebrating:
*Jens is healthy. So are Christopher, Clara, and I.
*We have each other.
*We have our friends and family.
*There is more love in our house
than I ever imagined possible.