Kage Baker was always concerned about the amorphous condition of “feeling like Christmas”.
It was something she wanted, and courted quite seriously. There was no one, definitive path to the feeling – but there were landmarks and sign posts that had to be met in order to ensure it happening; not all of them all the time, but some of them and in the right order. Otherwise: no Christmas feeling. Just a fancy dinner and presents: neither of which Kage scorned. But what she most earnestly wanted was that particular spiritual feeling.
Anything, she said, could bring it on. Dickens Fair almost always did it for her; it’s damned hard to avoid feeling like Christmas when you’re spending your weekends in a fairytale London. Even there, though, it required some specific markers – not the tinsel and snow and carols, so much, as a few quiet moments for us to share a paper cone of roasted chestnuts. Breakfasting at least once on fried oysters and deadly wonderful cocktails of Guinness and champagne. Listening to Charles Dickens reading “A Christmas Carol” aloud in our very own Parlour – warming his hands as Bob Cratchett at one of our battery-operated candles, snarling at his audience as Scrooge, wailing as the grieving Marley’s Ghost: Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!
That is Christmas, man.
She loved driving out and looking at other people’s holiday lights, especially if she could glimpse the shadows of people and parties through the windows. Kage loved that feeling of voyeurship. She collected views of other people’s cozy houses like private Christmas cards. It made her feel twice as warm and safe when we eventually came in out of the winter dark to our own safe haven. Sometimes she liked to stand on the sidewalk in front of our house, admiring the spread of lights we’d put up – which was always as wide and as high as I could reach, and ran off our roof onto all available fence lines and tree limbs. Sometimes we would stand out there and sing Christmas carols to our lit windows, until Harry decided we were nuts and yelled at us to get in the house …
Sometimes we’d go walk on the beach in the sounding dark, where the winter winds blew the sea-foam like glass into flying white stars. Sometimes we went to what is now The Grove (though when we went, it was the Farmers Market) down on Fairfax in L.A. – we’d wander between the booths, under the miles and miles of cut fir and cypress and coloured lights, eating roasted nuts and chocolates and French dip sandwiches out of waxed paper cocoons.
I wrapped most of the presents, because I got the wrapping gene and Kage didn’t. What she did was hand-letter tags on slips of parchment paper, in Celtic uncials and scarlet ink. When she was, perforce, wrapping my presents, the house rang with seasonal profanity … but it always left her with that Christmas feeling, somehow. She said the relief of getting my presents wrapped without losing a finger or taping Harry to something eased all the stress.
In lean years we saved up for a month, and then bought the world’s smallest rib roasts a day or two before Christmas: we usually had the butcher cut TWO (2) precious little ribs, and bore the resultant prize home all wrapped up in white paper like a proper Victorian indulgence. Eating a traditional dinner was fun, but what really made Kage feel Christmas-y was carrying that white-paper-wrapped package home.We made Yorkshire pudding, and later in the evening Kage would set the traditional pot holder on fire trying to light the brandy on the plum duff.
This year … well, things have not gone quite as planned. Sometimes the Christmas routine is like a well-maintained express train; other times, it’s like the ride down Mount Crumpet in an overburdened sleigh. It’s been a Mount Crumpet year for me. I missed most of Dickens, I caught flu and bronchitis and pneumonia, and lots of cherished rituals have been observed in the breech; or watching other people – people who could breathe properly – perform them through closed windows.
And now here I am in Los Angeles, which can’t make up its mind if it wants to broil or drown. We’re having torrential rains, winter brush fires, rock and mud and ash slides, avalanches and tornadoes. Last week it poured. Today it is clear and mild and even with the sun beginning to set on the shortest day of the year, it’s 75 degrees here. The air smells like pine trees and feels like milk.
But you know what, Dear Readers? I feel that Christmas feeling anyway. Our house is bedecked in lights in and out, from the naked mulberry tree outside to the green garland over the living room arch. There’s a lit-up Solstice Moose on the front lawn. There’s a string of tiny blue-white stars on my desk, and a wee LED Christmas tree that plugs into a spare port on my USB hub. The fireplace is lit every night, and the entire living room pulses with the soft heart-beat of moving flames.
I’ve no idea what brings it on, that feeling. Kage always seemed able to pinpoint the moment – I just wander on through the season until it smacks me in the face. Is it the thousand things done just the same every year for a lifetime? Or that one unique beauty you never thought of before, that ambushes the heart?
It’s a mystery. But it always happens, which I guess is both the mystery and the point.
It always happens.