“Christmas snuck up on me this year…”

Rockefeller Center!
Rockefeller Center!

I heard this as a child countless times during the final weeks of the year. School break began in cheers and goodbye hugs, evenings went from cold to colder and Christmas Eve was suddenly upon us. I heard my parents and my friends’ parents commiserating with each another as they frantically shopped at the grocery store and the mall. How could this be? I remember being incredibly confused by the lackluster sentiment. How could something so amazing–Christmas tree, lights, presents, cookies!!–possible sneak up on adult people…given this holiday occurred at the same time, on the same day, each year?

For me, Christmas was always about tradition and anxious anticipation. I salivated over the press cookies (dough that was never quite the right temperature) and waited until we unpacked the decorations so I could spin around the living room with the little nutcracker, imagining I was Clara, just minutes before the Rat King appeared. I balanced my time between wishing for a white Christmas and adding last minute items to my present list. My dad and I had a yearly date to trek out into the snow until we found the perfect tree or our toes froze, whichever came first. I distinctly remember one evening in December when the newspaper published a free pamphlet full of music and lyrics for holiday cheer-spreading carolers. I sang every one from my spot at the kitchen table while my mom prepared candied orange rinds in thin, brightly colored stripes of sticky heaven. 

Those Christmases, before I had money to buy presents or fully understood that Santa wasn’t real, still live somewhere within me. I can still close my eyes and transport myself back to a stomach full of hot chocolate, listen to Mom read holiday books on the couch and smell the freshly cut tree. But now, I finally understand the phrase that I found so perplexing as a child:

“Christmas snuck up on me this year.”

Bryant Park
Bryant Park

I have regrettably become the girl who both started and finished Christmas shopping on December 21st in a rushed bag-flying whirlwind, weaving between 14th and 23rd Street amongst other New York procrastinators. And let me tell you, I was not alone. Jobs. Responsibilities and daily dinner preparation. Junk mail, attempted dusting and laundry. Any and all of these things now fill the space I had a child, space I used to fill by pestering my mom to bake just ONE more type of cookie or asking my dad what he bought me for Christmas as he tried to watch the football game. I’ve made the switch from counting down the minutes to wishing the calendar pages could turn just a little bit slower. 

So tonight, I decided (before packing for home) that I needed to bake banana bread, blast some holiday tunes and remember why I love this season so much. I don’t want to be the grownup who worries more about the gifts still unwrapped and the holiday cookie calories already consumed than the time they spent in the warm company of family and friends. I think the winter season, regardless of the specific holiday, should be as much about giving thanks as giving presents or who gets to light the figgy pudding on fire. 

Macy's Window
Macy’s Window
The roomies
The roomies
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In Honor of Children

563722_668210419128_1706885273_nChristmas trees in all corners of the room were laden with strands of colored lights and giant red bobbles. Garlands of greenery were strung across the fireplace mantle and red and white poinsettia plants framed an ideal location for little bottoms to sit as children smiled for flashing cameras. I was dressed in a large red and green felt tunic complete with pom-pom balls dangling from triangles below my neck. A red apron was tied loosely over the ensemble and whenever I moved, bells would jingle from the elf hat on my head.

Miniature trains ran round and round peaceful villages on table displays, past ice-skating figurines and fluffy cotton snow. Adult train conductors in grey and white-stripped overalls sat nearby in preparations for prying fingers and careless gesturing. At 4pm, the doors to Look Park’s Garden House would open to welcome families into Santa’s Trains event and exhibit.

Just 93 miles south at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a devastatingly different scene was unfolding:

[Newtown, CT] “A man killed his mother at their home and then opened fire Friday inside an elementary school, massacring 26 people, including 20 children, as youngsters cowered in fear to the sound of gunshots reverberating through the building and screams echoing over the intercom. The 20-year-old killer, carrying at least two handguns, committed suicide at the school, bringing the death toll to 28 authorities said.” -John Christoffersen, Associated Press

Sandy HookThe doors were open. Boys and girls trailed past with piping cups of hot chocolate and giant sugar cookies in each hand. Every child who wanted to see Santa had to recite his or her name for the friendly elves. Only after the children’s names were located in the “nice” book, were they allowed to scurry in line to speak with the big man himself. Santa made time for every boy and girl provided they arrived between the hours of 4pm and 8pm. The North Pole is a very long way away, after all.

“All 20 of the slain children were either 6 or 7 years old.” -CNN.com

IMG_5133Children, with mothers and fathers in tow, skipped aimlessly from one shiny new thing to another. They occupied a world of red and green wonderment; confident their guardians would produce hot chocolate, mittens and new bracelets at a moments notice. These mothers and fathers had expectations too. Expectations that their young child would grow up, make mistakes and eventually make them proud. And they also expect to be outlived by their toddling 6 year old as this is the natural way of things.

I stood next to the artificial white Christmas tree with pink lights and cupcake ornaments, overheating in my extra large elf costume. In this magical holiday display, children existed to be loved and to love in return. in this moment, nothing matters beyond the exit doors and cold December air.

Staffers hailed as heroes- A worker who turned on the intercom, alerting others in the building that something was very wrong. A custodian who risked his life by running through the halls warning of danger. A clerk who led 18 children on their hands and knees to safety, then gave them paper and crayons to keep them calm and quiet.” -Associated Press

I have no answers for “why” the shooting and lives of 27 innocent souls were taken on Friday December 14th. But I do know that these children are our children, America’s children. Sandy Hook is every school in every town. As a former child and future parent, I send my prayers to every family who must now fill a hole where a former loved one used to reside. We raise you up on our shoulders and hope you find some inner peace in the coming months and all the months after that.

This holiday season and every season, hug those closest to you and sent your warmth out to estranged family members, forgotten friends and complete strangers. At the end of the
day, we must go on living as if we have years and years to fill with happy memories. It is our responsibility to live for those who cannot and for those who have forgotten how to try. 

For more information, receive guidance or make a donation, visit Help for victims of Sandy Hook.