With four December birthdays in our family, the rule is that Christmas doesn’t “start” until my birthday (the last of the four, now five if you count El Cap’s late November birthday, which we obviously do) ends. Christmas wasn’t the only holiday for us, not by a long shot. On December 7, we celebrate my dad. December 9? Mom. The next day, my cousin Michele, and later that week, it’s my turn. My parents, perhaps mindful of too many Christmas/birthday combo gifts, remain adamant to this day that the two – birthdays and Christmas – remain separate.
It’s become a birthday tradition, then, that on the night of my birthday, my thoughts, as they have after I’ve gorged myself on food on every birthday as far back as I can remember, turn to Christmas, and to family. On the night of my 42nd birthday, after El Cap went to bed, I sat in my office, plugged in my headphones, and launched my Christmas playlist.
“Myrrh is mine: its bitter perfume/Breathes of life of gathering gloom./Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,/Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.” – “We Three Kings,” Straight No Chaser
December is increasingly bittersweet as the silence of those not at the table threatens to overwhelm me. The heartbreak of the people who have left me – my godparents, my grandparents, my aunts and cousins–is never far. Every year it takes an effort to treasure what their presence in my life gave me, not what their absence has taken. They, along with my parents, gave me the foundation I needed to be the woman I love being today.
“Mamacita, oh, where is Santa Claus? I look for him because it’s Christmas Eve.” – “Donde Esta Santa Claus,” Straight No Chaser
I believed in Santa Claus for way too long, perhaps because my mom and dad went way out of their way to make sure I held onto the magic. My mom insisted my room be tidy for Santa, going so far as to insist the elves would check in dresser and desk drawers to ensure I hadn’t merely stuffed junk away randomly but had instead put it all in its proper place. This, my father said recently, explains a lot about some of my more peculiar habits.
“Then one foggy Christmas Eve/Santa came to say/Rudolph with your nose so bright,/Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” – “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Harry Connick, Jr.
It wasn’t all “OCD in training”on the Salustri homefront, though: One year, my parents convinced me the light I saw through the back window of our 1976 Buick Regal was Rudolph’s leading Santa’s Sleigh. Another year, my dad put on his snow boots, went out in the snow, and tracked snow through our living room. Then he spilled graham cracker crumbs all over the kitchen counter and floor, leaving the box open as if a reindeer had been digging his nose deep into it. When I found this scene the next morning I was beyond delighted – Santa had brought Rudolph into my house! –although my mother, who undoubtedly had to clean up the impromptu reindeer bender, was less than thrilled, I’m certain.
”So this is Christmas/And what have you done/Another year over/And a new one just begun/And so this is Christmas/I hope you have fun.” – “So This is Christmas,” The Beatles
A dozen years ago this month I started over with nothing but a car, my dog, a laptop, and an astoundingly small pile of cash. From those things – and my family – I’ve built a life overflowing with love and laughter and people I treasure. Every year in December I remember how important it is to fill my life with as many of these people as I can.
“Fall on your knees/Oh hear the angel voices/Oh night divine/Oh night when Christ was born/A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices/For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!” – O Holy Night
I’m pretty firmly entrenched in the “Buddhist with a touch of pantheist”camp. It’s a small but cozy camp. Nevertheless, I find the Christmas story the most poignant story of our time. It’s not the Christ, but the idea of birth and rebirth – from our pagan roots and the idea of rebirth of the sun to the idea of the birth of a messiah – that speak to me on a personal level. The Christmas story imbues the idea of a Christly coming with the pagan notion of rebirth, of finding a new life in the face of death. It is a divine marriage of Christianity with ancient, sacred mores.
“O star of wonder, star of night/Star with royal beauty bright/Westward leading, still proceeding/Guide us to thy perfect Light.” – We Three Kings
I found Gulfport by chance. I signed a lease on a small apartment on 49th Street, and later that night came back to see it, which was ridiculous, because I couldn’t see a damn thing. My soon-to-be apartment was barely a blue specter on 49th Street; all I could see were stars and sky. Nevertheless, I felt a sense of coming home.
“Christmas Eve will find me/Where the love light gleams/I’ll be home for Christmas/And you’ll be in my dreams.” – I’ll Be Home For Christmas
This year, for the first time ever, El Cap, our parents, Calypso, Banyan and I will all celebrate together, in our Gulfport home. We will eat my grandmother’s recipes at my other grandmother’s table, and I will miss the family not beside me. But I will thank them, too, for being the sort of family that brought me to where I need to be.
“My heart told me once before/To find my dream and search no more/And when my heart finds Christmas/I hope it finds you too.” – “When My Heart Finds Christmas,” Harry Connick, Jr.
Merry Christmas to my extended Gulfport family.
Hard Candy is an opinion column written by veteran reporter Cathy Salustri. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Gabber publishers, staff or advertisers. Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.