is never where you expect it.
Not in the big house
with the fire lit and the presents rustling,
nor where the lights awaken
the tree and you should feel something
Christmas happens in the unimaginable
place-in a city store with canned music-
in the street with a stranger
and a white cyclamen,
or when the silence tightens
the cry in your throat.
Then Christmas comes,
never where you expect it
and always in Bethlehem.
-Diane Hendry, Oxford Book of Christmas Poems
That time your friend read this poem at your annual book club dinner in the dining room that keeps all our secrets safe until next year. Christmas is in our long history together.
That time you lost it at yet another construction halt on the road, late already for work after you left the pecans toasting and the house reeking of burning nuts, and your neighbour— the one who came by at 10:30 pm that Friday night last June to tell you to turn the music down in the backyard party on the the night your kids were celebrating the end of the school year— is shaking her head as you turn up the volume on the radio in the car as it passes her on the sidewalk; because Choir Choir Choir is on the radio and they’re singing Simon and Garfunkel. Christmas is here in the car.
That time you looked down the pew and saw faces you love including your kid, almost 21—when did that happen?—arriving late in her baseball hat and knapsack and exam schedule-be-damned-and the church darkens and voices rise in a service that never gets old; and they’re doing Carol of the Bells, and you remember all the words even though it is your 17-year-old wearing the red choir gown and not you. Christmas is here in this church pew.
That time you discovered the counters are clean and the dishes are done and your kid kept her promise after she baked for her teachers. Christmas is right here in this kitchen.
That time your husband, who likes his ties in a row, came into your writing nook; sees the mess-that-will be-here-until-I-finish-my-book-and-not-one-day-earlier; steps over stacks of I-don’t-know-what and says Have a good day of writing today. Christmas is here in the mayhem.
That time you asked a friend to take photos of your annual book drive shindig that became a coed affair just this once, and she sends you a picture of almost every one of the 100-plus guests, guests who thought Drop-In meant Stay-Put, guests bearing books and wine and cookies I didn’t make and hugs that will sustain me for a very long time. Christmas is in their footprints.
That time your sister, the one who always shows up and always takes photos so you didn’t ask her this time, took photos anyway because we need to remember the good times. Christmas is in her heart.