Then there are the Christmases broken by illness. I had so looked forward to Bob's and my first Christmas together in our own home with our own tree the year we got married. Bob loves to buy gifts for me, and for once, I was with a man I knew I could lavish with gifts who wouldn't feel guilty, because all he'd bought me was a CD from the sale rack. So what happened? We both came down with severe chest colds that prevented us from doing much more than dragging ourselves from the bed to the kitchen to make cups of hot tea and back again. Forget Christmas shopping. We had a total of about three presents under the tree that year.
When everyone is the epitome of good health, the weather will do its best to interfere. One Christmas, Bob and I were looking forward to entertaining Forsyth, who had recently divorced, and our two young nieces. Having worried that the weather in our neck of the woods might suddenly dump buckets of ice and snow on us, I hadn't once thought to worry about North Carolina, where ice and snow before January are about as common as tornadoes in the Land of Oz. Blizzards can be raging everywhere else in the country, even in Key West, and the piedmont region of North Carolina will be hit with nothing but a disappointing and bitterly cold drizzly rain.
Not that year, though. While we remained perfectly sunny and precipitation free, Raleigh was hit with a paralyzing ice storm. My sister and nieces never made it.
Broken toys, broken dreams, broken relationships...No wonder Scrooge was so down on Christmas. What I do wonder, though, is why I still fall into the trap of hoping every Christmas that maybe that magic we're promised is there somewhere. As are the idealized parent, the idealized family, the idealized homes and marriages we've all come to want and expect but rarely get, Christmas is one of those myths of western culture. The question shouldn't be: do you believe in Santa Clause? The question should be: do you believe in Christmas?
Sometimes, despite all my dashed hopes, when I manage to wade through all the hideous advertising, all the holiday crowds and can convince myself to ignore all the greed and selfishness so blatantly on display, I'll see a single white candle shining in a window. Or I'll hear a clear, haunting soprano sing "Once in Royal David's City." Or, I'll watch a child joyfully unwrap a present I've carefully chosen, and even I have to answer, "Yes, I do believe in Christmas."