I write every weekday. Christmas day is no exception. Today’s story is what happened to me on Christmas morning in New England, which didn’t quite turn out as expected.
I was raised in a Jewish family and married a woman from a Christian family; as we have celebrated both traditions I’ve learned to love the warm rituals of Christmas, which in our house is family holiday, not a religious one. I had just brought back my adult son Ray from his senior year at Tufts University, which even though it is just around the corner, still creates the distance that comes from a child living a busy college life. My other child, Isi, goes to community college and lives with us, but this was a chance for us all to spend some low-stress time together and reconnect. Since the rest of my family lives far away and was unable to travel, this was going to be time for the four of us to share a warm Christmas together.
We filled the weekend with intellectual and emotional entertainment, including a challenging local experimental theater production of a Christmas Carol and the latest Star Wars epic, the quality of which we heatedly debated. Finally, we were snuggled up in our beds expecting a late, relaxing morning with breakfast sausages and my wife’s freshly made iced rolls. That, and everything else we needed to cook, was in our packed refrigerator waiting for everybody to wake up.
It was cold and bright outside but dark and warm inside the refrigerator when we woke up. It had stopped working overnight. Our warm plans for the morning evaporated in frustration. We spent Christmas morning unloading what could be saved in to an insulated cooler and discarding the rest, including what was going to be breakfast. I understood that it was my job to save the Christmas warmth we’ve been celebrating for our 30 years together.
Outside, New England was covered with a fresh layer of ice and snow, blowing sideways in high winds. Charming, so long as you don’t have to go out in it. I strapped on the snow boots and began shoveling the long walk to my driveway.
Nature wasn’t satisfied with whipping snow in my face. She added a bit of lightning and thunder to ensure I knew who was in charge. Thundersnow was new experience for me. But as winter sun sparkled off the trees and the hillside, I just took a moment to marvel at the beauty of the ice-covered outdoors, with a sound track made only of blowing winds, the neighbors’ wind chimes, and the occasional thunderclap.
Having dug out, I drove to two drugstores and two convenience stores in search of food to replace what had spoiled. The roads were deserted and it was dead quiet. Every parking lot was empty and unplowed. As I learned, convenience stores stock mostly food that stoners want to heat up in a hurry — burritos and burgers that were not going to restore the Christmas spirit at our snowbound house. But surprisingly, the local Italian market was open as well, and after a bit of banter with the staff who were amazingly cheerful at 9 a.m. on a snowy Christmas day, I gathered up some sausages and sweets and piloted the four-wheel drive up the hill and back into the snowy driveway.
As our kids woke up and my wife returned what could be saved — and what I’d brought back — to the once-again-functioning refrigerator, we began our day as if nothing had happened. We opened a few presents, lit a fire, heard tales of challenges at college, and gathered what warmth we could. Christmas dinner came off as planned, with lively conversation about the theoretical social media accounts of fictional characters. My kids are smart and creative and challenging. I smiled a lot; my wife basked in the warmth we’d restored.
Life is a struggle, sometimes even on Christmas morning. But you do what you can, abandon what plans you must, fight the obstacles, and cling closely to those you love. We’ll never have another Christmas like this, I’m sure. But I also hope to have many other Christmases like this in spirit as our children take on their own challenges, build their lives, and, I hope, stay connected with us for many years to come.