James and I do Christmas shopping very differently. I start months in advance, searching and planning and shopping, so that by the time Christmas comes around, I only have a little left to do. James prefers to do it all about a week before Christmas, in one long day of dashing through stores and braving Christmas traffic. On Saturday he went out for his Christmas shopping marathon and I stayed in, writing papers and catching up on grading, two sentences which could describe almost any day in this last month of the semester. When he got back there was of course the yell to not look as he entered, the dash to find somewhere to hide all the gifts. In a small DC apartment, this proves trickier than you might think. There are all of three closets, all small and all stuffed to the brim with things. Under the bed, under the couch — full. The rustling of bags and coat hangers, those secret sounds of gifts being hidden and surprises kept, it just sounds like Christmas.
On Saturday night we went to James’ office party, which included a candlelight tour of Mount Vernon. This year it rained, and we huddled under umbrellas hearing about Washington’s Christmas traditions. Yes, snow would have made it better. But still, the sounds of cold, of rain tapping on umbrellas, of fires sizzling in the drizzle, of muffled noises in winter, it just sounds like Christmas.
We stayed up late, too late that night, cleaning and cooking for our holiday party. When we finally climbed in bed at 2am, I couldn’t sleep. It made me think of the many times during December I went to bed as a child, only to hear my parents stay up for hours more cleaning, wrapping, cooking, getting ready for all the things that Christmas brings. Those late night carols, the cleaning at 1am because there wasn’t time before, the rattling of dishes and pans, it just sounds like Christmas.
On Sunday we squeezed everything possibly Christmas into one day. We went to the early service at our church to hear them do their annual performance of Handel’s Messiah. The words are Christmas, are Advent, in all of their long pining and waiting for that final chorus where we all stand and sing. I got so excited that I sang all the parts, in a key all my own, much to the shame of anyone nearby who was a Messiah purist. A whole room of people belting out the “Hallelujah” chorus as one joyful crowd, it sounds just like Christmas.
We came home and started making bacon and eggs, brewing coffee and heating up everything we made the night before for our Christmas brunch. Every year we want to host a Christmas party and every year I get so stressed out when it comes time and I have so much to do. This year, in what might go down as our best idea of 2013, we decided to go for a Christmas brunch instead, replacing stale cookies with bacon and fancy finger foods with fried potatoes and monkey bread. Hearing laughter from everyone we loved gathered in our little home as I fried bacon, listening to everyone’s stories, the sounds of brunch, it sounds just like Christmas.
Shortly after everyone left we loaded back in the car to head to a living Christmas tree play that two of our other friends were in. We got to hear more carols, sing the Messiah final chorus again, and watch the tree light up and dazzle the dark room. Afterwards we went back to someone’s house for chili and cookies. The friends who hosted are expecting their first child and we love talking about all the things you talk about with the first baby. All the hopes, dreams, fears, and plans of new life, this too sounds like Christmas.
So for today, I’ll just close with some of my favorite words from Handel’s Messiah, words that sound like the very essence of Christmas.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor.
The Almighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. “