Christmas always starts on Christmas Eve for me. Since childhood it has been tradition and is a day steeped in cinnamon and brandy and that sharp tang of anticipation. I have never before spent it at work, and it was hard to remember (as I wrote the date repeatedly), that it was actually the fabled date of my youth. That longed for day for all of the very long year wherein that magic suspension of time and space betwixt not Christmas and Christmas hangs.
The week leading up had been hectic: late night, last minute shopping. Dinners with friends and frantic tidying as the waterlogged, housebound children wreaked havoc. The solstice marked with a lunar eclipse that I happened upon, not knowing what it was - marvelling at the ghostly clouds of the oversized crescent moon as it grew before my eyes. The change from red to milky then ghostly white as she rose into the sky on the clearest night I can remember for weeks.
Staying up late to cut out the girls dresses by the glow of the twinkling Christmas star and the fairy lights, satiated by the reflection off the shiny floorboards. Waking up at dawn to dress for work and trudge through the rain to finish another full day before coming home to prepare yet more in a manic frenzy. Friends would laughingly tell me it was "just another day" while Bingley, becoming wise now in his 4th decade refrained from all but a questioning eyebrow as I pieced together the Christmas dresses before realising I had lost my standard sewing foot AND my bobbin.
The girls hopped around on Christmas Eve with so much innocent delight that it made me feel vindicated in all of my late night efforts. Coming home from work tired I pushed it all aside as we laid the table with our wedding china and sparkly crystal and turkey and stuffing and all things good. The girls ate though they were excited, bouncing in their chairs and clinking goblets together delightedly saying "cheese" instead of "cheers" while the Possum inhaled his turkey.
The Elfling collected a plate after dinner and filled it with things for Santa - digging through the bottom of the drawer of the fridge looking desperately for a carrot for the reindeer and choosing a beer for Santa - all of which she laid out for him by the tree. It was standing there in the light of the tree with the Santa sacks laid out hopefully, the stockings hanging by the window and the little golden Wedgewood plate filled with treats that I suddenly felt the prickle of tears behind my eyes at the sheer hallmark perfection of that moment. I tucked the girls into bed where the excitement hovered over them in a shimmering cloud as we read one of the Christmas stories from the stash, and they Elfling knitted her eyelids shut, willing sleep to come so that it would be morning soon.
As per tradition I turned on the Carols in the Domain and sang softly as I sat at my sewing machine, the whirring keeping time with the ancient hymns as two bright dresses formed under my hands. And then with a jingling of bells, Santa has there and the sacks were stuffed with mysterious wrapped packages and Bingley helped to assemble the scooters and the little ride on 3 wheeler and the blackboard. I hung the completed dresses by the bulging stockings and looked at the loveliness and sighed. It was so pretty it hurt my eyes. My heart bubbling like warm champagne as it frothed around my veins.
I curled into bed next to Bingley and it was my turn to squeeze my eyes shut and wish for sleep so that tomorrow would be here: the room not entirely dark as the muted glow bounced its way around the room, reminding me that Christmas was right next door.
We woke in the darkness of Christmas morning to hear the Possum in that limbo between falling back to sleep and waking, and being far too early for the latter I tiptoed into the kitchen and mixed a bottle of formula, stroking his forehead as he sucked and fell back asleep. Smiling as I walked past the room of loveliness and curling up in bed, unable to sleep.
Dawn tickled around the window frame around 5 and not long after came the unmistakeable sounds of the girls waking up. The delighted, awed, hushed cries as the girls walked into the lounge room had me tearing up in bed, listening to the surprised delight as the Elfling realised that Santa and his reindeer had eaten their treats. The thud as the new scooters were exclaimed over with thrilled squeals and ridden up and down the hallway. The Monkey debating about whether or not she could open her presents yet, and guiltily satisfying herself with opening her sack and seeing the wrapped booty within, exclaiming to the Elfling to check hers too.
Bingley and I lay in bed and listened to it - the sweet symphony of childhood and appreciation and sheer radiant joy - and he laughed as I cried a little bit, because if nothing else I am a sook. Finally overcome, and knowing they were not to open anything until everyone was awake, they tentatively came into our room and pleaded to be allowed to wake the Possum. Their faces glowing in the half light - the Elfling especially looking so beautiful it made me ache, the innocent happiness making me grateful all over again that I get to be her mother.
We allowed them to open their stockings while they waited, knowing the exquisite torture of waiting and delayed gratification as we lay in the new day, celebrating when so many days it has not felt like a celebration - grateful that today I want to be nowhere else, but with my family, listening to the raptures over finding new undies in the bottom of a stocking when they were sure that there was nothing else to find.
Eventually I allowed the girls to check, surreptitiously, if the Possum was awake. Stealthily they opened the door, tiptoed over to his bed and bellowed that it was Christmas, disconcerting a peacefully sleeping Possum who rubbed his eyes and looked tearful at this noisy interruption to sugar plum dreaming. The exuberance of his sisters causing him to retreat into the safety of our arms until he had woken up enough to appreciate what was going on - which at that point was a veritable orgy of paper ripping as the girls were unleashed on their Santa sacks.
It's all a bit blurry from here, as presents were exclaimed over, and alternately dumped into my lap to open as the girls jumped about like mini Christmas sprites, eager to pass out as many presents as they opened and cajoled the Possum to start ripping into his. I smiled as I opened the pyjamas I'd asked for, and thrilled a little bit at the silly Eiffel Tower bag they came in, as if they'd been made especially for me. But it was the very very heavy oblong gift that made my heart do that tiny gleeful butterfly releasing jump as I opened it.
It is a massive coffee table style book and they had had an older edition of it at the place we stayed a few weeks ago. I had sat there in the corner but the window that ran with rain and the cool grey light and pored over this book. It is travel-lite. It is not a dissertation into travel or in depth. It is the readers' digest of travel books, but I loved it. I loved that it had every country, with pictures and little facts and maps. How I love maps. It made me want to get out a little packet of post it notes and place them all the places I want to visit until I realised the futility of this as I want to go everywhere.
To many books like this are pointless - I can upload more information and more full screen pictures than are in this book to my lap in seconds. But owning it made me as thrilled as I was as a child to receive the latest Roald Dahl book, or any other of the most cherished books of my childhood. It is *mine* and it was sitting, heavy and beautiful in my lap, smooth shiny pages under my fingertips, that smell of new books and just the promise of it all. That yes I will go there. And there and there and there. Bingley often buys me nice things, but this is the first time that he got it completely, irrevocably perfect.
I sat in my chair for a long time reverently turning the pages of my book as the girls, finally finished with all their gifts tore around the verandah on their scooters, the Possum joining in on his little trike. Bingley busied himself in the kitchen making poached eggs on toast with Christmas ham and I bundled all the ripped and torn paper excess to be recycled as garden mulch and spoke to relatives who had been woken by the joint cries of excited children and a surprise cyclone that had crossed the coast that morning.
The rain did not dampen our spirits as we headed up to my Mum and Dad's place, the Possum and the Monkey falling asleep on the way as the rain beat a steady rhythm on the roof. Arriving to smiles and hugs and all the other Hallmark cliches as we dashed inside with the big washing basket of gifts, all strange shapes and sizes, the wrapped umbrella in the middle looking silly tied with a bow.
We chatted with Mum and Dad as Mum laid out platters and checked the turkey buff as it filled the air with it's juicy scent and I decorated the pavlova as is my yearly tradition.
Then the last of the relatives arrived and the orgy of gift giving continued - watching the surprise and delight of those receiving the perfect gift and the polite cheerfulness of those who didn't. I was especially proud of the Elfling, who on realising that she liked a gift the Monkey had been given instead, picked up her fallen face and smiled delightedly at me before giving me a cuddle.
Then lunch and cocktails (or mocktails for the little ones, who thought that the maraschino cherries floating in their sparkling apple juice were the last word in magnificence) and far too much turkey. Ridiculous cracker jokes that make me laugh out loud and paper hats. Tiny plastic gifts that the Elfling and Monkey collected up and played with for half an hour together, bemused by their junkiness but loving them anyway. The Possum pulling his own cracker with an expression of simultaneous terror and determination that still makes me chortle days later.
Putting together the mini fusball table after lunch, when not a single extra morsel of food could be forced into groaning stomachs and the heated games thereafter. The wii sports tournaments fought in the living room while I crashed out on the couch. Eating pavlova even when there was no room and the gluten free trifle. And maybe a couple of celebratory chocolates.
The girls were so well behaved all day I wanted a medal for parenting brilliance (as if I had anything to do with it) and the Possum was his usual sunshiny self. It was such a perfect day that I thought I would burst from it, filled with food and love and cheer and happiness.
We drove home into the soggy night and loaded sleeping children into their new pyjamas and bed and smiled. And smiled. And smiled.