Christmas Eve. My sister and I would get into our pyjamas then hunker down by the tree. The seeming millions of lights would be sparkling and not much else by way of light would be on in the house. Dad might read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ or bits of ‘A Christmas Carol’. We might open a present. But always, always we’d carefully choose where to lay out our stockings - we didn’t have a fireplace but mom and dad used to assure us they’d given Santa a spare key - and where best to place the cookies for Santa and carrot for Rudolph. (Never the other reindeer, poor things, always just Rudolph.) It would all seem impossibly sparkly and unbearable, like being wound so tightly that springs inside might just snap free, feeling alight with anticipation, trembled and too-full somehow. It was magic. It felt utterly magic. And it wasn’t just the belief in Santa or opening the gifts or imagining the empty stockings full... it was all of it. The lights, the way they glinted off the hundred decorations on the tree, the way the music was always lilting in the background like snowflakes, the way only the tree lit the house, the spiraled feeling of... something. Something else. Something inexplicable. Something just there, just beyond reach, something tangible winding through the house yet forever elusive. A warmth. A shiver of delight.
But the best part, absolutely the most delicious part, was after we’d finally been coaxed to bed. I’d lay in the dark with the covers tucked right up under my chin, wrapped in the indescribable sensation of Christmas Eve, and my parents would still be up. The stereo would still be on in the living room just down the hall from my bedroom. And I’d know the only lights were from the ethereal glowing tree. If I lay very still and slowed my breathing just so, I’d be able to clearly hear the music through the wall. Bing Crosby and White Christmas. Nat King Cole and The Christmas Song. Bing Crosby and Mele Kalikimaka. Tony Bennett and Snowfall. Elvis Presley and Blue Christmas. Brenda Lee and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. Boney M and Mary’s Boy Child. Judy Garland and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. I’d fight sleep for as long as I could hear the music. And it would seem distant, filtered as it was through the wall and the darkness shrouding me in bedtime, which made it the more divine. As though I were entering another world, a realm entirely comprised of anticipation and warm-sounding music. I’d know, in the back of my mind, that the next day was Christmas - CHRISTMAS! - but for those little stretches of night there was nothing else. There was nothing before and there was nothing coming: there was only that delicious music I carefully strained to hear and the dark and the faint gleam at the window of the red, blue, and green lights lining the roof and the cocoon of bed and mom and dad in the other room.
Every Christmas is different now. Every Christmas is new and fraught with adulthood and the lens through which we see things once grown. But if I plug in the tree lights and turn everything except the music off, I feel it. It’s still there, Christmas Eve. It’s still able to run on electric feet through my veins. And it’s magic. Not because of what’s to come the next day but because of what has been and remains imprinted within.
- Corinne Simpson