Kage Baker actually enjoyed Christmas Day. Hip-deep in family, noise and kitchen disasters though she usually was, she enjoyed the mad whirl of The Day. Even on years when we got up at 3 AM to drive to Los Angeles from Pismo Beach in time to herald dawn with nieces and nephews, she was happy to do so.
Mind you, she generally slept through the trip South. She’d wake up when the sun finally crested the sea hills, somewhere around Ventura, and open her eyes to the dun-silver hills and the sea. I was the one who enjoyed the race through the starry night – I cherished all those long treks, the car full of sleeping family (sometimes we had niece Emma or nephew Michael. We always had Harry.) and piled presents, loose bows rolling around on the floor with emptied coffee cups from the weeks of Dickens Fair …
It was always my favourite night of all the year, Christmas Eve-not-quite-morning, running through the night with the stars. In some places the road would be shining with frost most years; in others, various strangers’ lights were left on to guide Father Christmas, Grandfather Winter, Santa Claus and Odin to their banked hearths. I’m pretty sure it was Odin they were waiting for, that one year I passed the little house alone on the cliffs between Reina de Mariposa and Isla Vista, because the white lights on its roof formed a valknut symbol. You get some funny things lighting up the night in empty places, and near universities.
But the whole point of the night runs was to arrive at our destination with the Yule sun. Which we did, most years. Triumph was ours, climbing the stair with the newborn shadows still ice pale and frozen, before the new sun quite illumined the world. Which was extremely handy. There is no sun so blindingly bright as Mid-Winter’s dawn.
This year, as in the past several, I have had the easier route: I slept in my own bed all night, and woke up waaaay past dawn to fresh-baked all manner of delicious things. Kimberly is a morning person, and was up before the laggard sun, I think, popping yummies in and out of the oven at various temperatures: which is certainly a kinder, gentler way of waking up the rest of us. The dog was up, of course, unshakeable in his faith that this year, she’d finally drop the standing prime rib roast on the floor. The cats were still stoned and boneless under the Christmas tree, drug socks clutched in their paws.
I didn’t even have the midnight drive home down I-5 after the closing of Dickens: I was already home by then, fighting off pneumonia while my heroic cast began breakdown without me. (This Sunday I will be back up there, though, to supervise the annual storage of the props and furniture; which means, sitting on the last chair until the last minute, watching the young and strong interweave all our couches, sideboards and love seats into an architectural knot for the year.) No, I rose straight into the long white light of Christmas dawn, ready for the family rituals.
Some years one is blessed by the most unexpected things. At the advanced age of 61, I am grateful as never before to be sleeping in my own bed. Grateful to wake up with the family I would happily drive 300 miles in the dark to see, already gathered in the living room. Grateful to sleep in the coruscation of coloured lights from tree and wall and window and desk-edge that – on any other night at all – would have kept me fretfully awake. Grateful for the new miracle of greetings via the aether from friends all over the country, and grateful for the old, old miracle of the fire on the hearth and its ancient message:
Oh, the running of the deer and the rising of the sun: Sol Invictus! The Light returns, Life wins again, and with any luck – per the blessed Sir Terry Pratchett – the oxygen will thaw out.
Merry Yule, Dear Readers. unto you all. Happy Christmas, Holy Solstice, Well-Balanced Perihelion! Merry Yule!