The Children: Now there is magic in the very air, and every prospect pleases. The world is full of delectable secrets - large lumpy packages upon the closet shelf, running feet on the stairs, whispers and laughter and snatches of singing, the dazzle of spun glass and the smell of sugar and spice. The unaccustomed tree is in the house, where trees don't grow, looped with its tinsel and twinkles, and everybody suddenly listens when the children speak. Laps become more readily available, and there are stories for the asking - old, old stories for new ears. Who can doubt the benevolence of life when the rumored one, by means not exactly clear, showers down largesse on Christmas morn and makes dreams come true - the red dump truck, the doll that walks and talks? Who can doubt anything when, as one lies stiff and sentient in one's bed, the listening ear has caught (just before sleep overtook one) the phantom sound of hoof beats of reindeer:
There is more here than meets the eye or the experience - a kind of magic. May they never lose it. May the eternal possibility of miracles attend their days.
The Grandparents: So many Christmases have rolled over their heads; there are so many things to remember. If the old house is strangely neat and curiously quiet, and the bubble and squeak of the season have stilled to the low murmur of orderly existence, they will soon rise and go where the action is - where their own progeny have begat and taken up the cudgels, and the cycle is beginning again. They will be welcomed with glad cries of parental relief and pure childish pleasure. They will spoil the children without stint or compunction, and they will have the time for it. They will not concern themselves with what's cooking on the stove or who's paying for it. They will sit calmly in the chaos of the second generation's living room and harvest the fruits of their labors. "Do you remember that Christmas when you were between jobs, and the Christmas tree fell over in the fireplace and caught fire and broke the bottle of cologne you'd bought me?" she asks. " I was out of work." He says, "not between jobs, and I was broke in the bargain." She smiles. "But then you got a job, and that made Christmas that year." He grins. "I don't remember about that. I do remember that nine months later we got Timmie!"
Let them remember that responsibility was never a burden - always a blessing.
The Mother: Motherhood is a diurnal round. She can hardly remember a time before they came - running noses, damp snowsuits, wet and muddy puppies, flushed faces, fevered brows, walking the floor in the middle of the night, smiles, tears, anguish, joy, hope, faith, and terror - all to the persistent music of the washer and dryer. Was she ever really a girl, with that pack of ridiculous ideas? How could Christmas have meant anything to her before she found out what it's about? But it's so old-fashioned to go around feeling like a mother, experiencing that blaze of satisfaction when they are once more bedded down, rosy in sleep, while visions of the regulation sugarplums presumably dance in their heads, safe again for at least a few hours. She should be searching for her true identity, except that she already knows what it is. She's a mother, and that makes her at one with women since the dawn of time and still leaves her unique. But there's no time for philosophy - must stuff the turkey, trim the tree, help Daddy assemble the mechanical toys, fill the stockings, and put out the light, taking a moment to peer at the star, shedding its radiance on her little stockade against the fearsome world.
Give her a moment of exultation - the exaltation that knows no counterpart.
The Lovers: They were married before man and in the sight of God a short while ago, and now they are at home. They have their first four walls and not much else, if the truth be known; but the place is scarcely large enough to contain what springs between them - the pride, the confidence, the desire and the fulfillment. Christmas has cone, and he yearns for dragons guarding treasure, so that he could slay them and lay the plunder at her feet - silks, jewels, attar of roses. She dreams gifts of unimaginable splendor to wrap him and deck him and speak of her love. She has bought him a flat pin-seal wallet, and he has bought her a thin red purse; but all they really want or need is each other. She confronts with pardonable dismay the cold, raw turkey, which she will somehow manage to roast and he will manage to mangle, since he has never carved. They will then collapse in laughter and kiss and cling, for their hunger is of a different order.
May they never, ever forget.
The Venerable One: She is old and wise, they say, and has survived many a Christmas. They treat her with the deference and respect accorded a fragile artifact and never listen to a thing she says. They shield her from drafts and hasten for shawls, push up the footstool and deprive her of fruitcake and talk across her, saying how remarkable she is. Well, she is old; there's no denying that. If she could ever see seventy-five again and her arthritis did not plague her so, if she had her strength, she would belay them with her cane and make them listen. During the long years she has come to a few conclusions that need to be passed on. It's the way you look at life that turns it bitter or sweet - a matter of attitude. If you see it as a vale of tears, even the skies will weep. Nobody is in position to promise you anything, so why do people all expect too much? Love is a complicated thing, not a condition in the body. Love is interdependence and mutual trust and caring more for another than for oneself, and when all passion is spent, love remains. The turning earth is beautiful in all its seasons, more beautiful than words can tell, and life is good. Never doubt that life is good and that love's uncertain glory is worth whatever it costs.
When the time comes, provide her with the curiosity that welcomes the unknown.
The Adolescent: Knowledge informs her, and there are no solid rewards to replace lost credibility. There are only questions without answers, problems without solutions, rebellions without reasons. Her heart yearns toward the familiar past (Make me a child again just for tonight!) and stares down the awesome road of the future with a tremble of fear, for she knows so much and so little. There is an ache which cannot be staunched by the baubles of her new estate - the long white gloves and the glistening boots, the hood contrived of fur - for she now decries possessions. Whey do they tell you lies? Or are they really lies, because who knows the truth, if it comes down to that? Who knows anything for sure?
Let him happen by soon - the one for whom she waits without knowing it. Make her a grown woman for all time, who is still half a child.
The Youngest: Regard the youngest one on Christmas Eve with all his frailty so shaped to beguile that a ring of adoring faces bends above him and tired hearts resolve to make the world a better place in his behalf. His large unfocused eyes reflect the age-old scent and freshen it. For is he not the secret of it all - the new, untried, unblemished vessel of all possibility? Could he not wax and grow and come to man's estate and lead us down new paths of goodness? Inherent in the downy head, sleep-crumpled face, and starfish hand, the awakening spirit, lies mans hope. The baby smiles, inspired by instinct or some little pleasure of that mystical realm he inhabits, but a gift of pure delight to those who hover. He is enfolded in love, surrounded by champions.
In all the years to come - the weary years - far ahead and long away, may he sense without knowing why, having neither memory nor proof, that he was once a king.