photo by Donna

A friend said something important to me this morning: “There’s always a big component of sadness in Christmas. If there isn’t, then you haven’t had a lucky life.”

I hadn’t recognized this explicitly until that moment, but I think I’d known this since I was a boy. I still remember one particular Christmas Eve, I must have been six or seven. My parents were upstairs dressing for a series of parties we attended in those days, especially the open house at Peter and Connie Zacher’s. Peter, life-long friend, was a great gourmand and the house was filled with food and cooking and laughter, kids and adults of all ages.

But in the quiet, as my parents dressed, I wandered the living room of our small colonial on Norwood Road, in Shaker Heights, OH. The room was lit only by candles and the Christmas tree’s white lights, a crackling fire. Presents stuffed under the tree, stockings hung, Christmas carols on softly, a pot of fragrant cheese fondue my dad had prepared kept hot over a can of Sterno. Our ordinary house had been transformed into a magical place. And I felt touched by that magic, its finger pressing my insides. And while the prospect of the joy of Christmas morning knotted my stomach with anticipation, I also felt a distinct melancholy. Which is why I believe I remember the moment.

Without quite knowing why, I believe my young self sensed how magical this night actually was, with all its myths and stories, and genuine celebration and joy, presents and food and laughter, and family and friends, and that it would soon be over, which, of course, enhanced the sense of magic.

My most acutely sad Christmas was the one that followed the death of my father. But it was sad precisely because we had been so lucky to have him in our midst. And this was my friend’s point. Part of Christmas is acknowledging certain sadnesses (my father, that Peter Zacher is gone, too, as is the boy who felt actually touched by the magic), so that the joy, the festivity, the celebration, being with the people we love, our hope for peace on earth, is felt more acutely and meaningfully. The sadness also helps us to remember to live in the moment and to recognize the gifts all around us.

Wishing you all, glass raised high, a magical Christmas.