Long ago Christmases were a magical time. Our eyes opened in wonder with the lights and gifts around the Christmas tree; we sat on the floor around Granny as she made the Nativity crib and we helped her by giving her figure after piece until the last one, the shining star that she put on the stable’s roof. Then she would tell us, year after year, how Jesus was born and how he was visited by three kings with gifts, and that was the reason why people exchanged gifts for Christmas. When we asked her why was it that Santa Claus was the one bringing these gifts she said something like – Jesus asked him to and we believed, of course; after all Granny was so wise, she knew everything.
Then we would follow her to the kitchen and watch as she baked delicious cakes and Christmas pastries; when she finally sent us away we’d sit outside the kitchen feeling the delicious smell that invaded the whole ground floor of the house. After what seemed a long time we went up and got dressed and the whole family and some friends came over for the great Christmas Eve dinner and we’d all sit together and feel excited and happy and know for certain that Christmas was the best, the very best time of the year.
So many Christmases have come and gone since those early magical ones. There were never comparable, but I remember as very special those Christmases, many years later, when my boys were small and I saw the same wonder in their eyes. The kitchen was never as big as the one of my childhood nor did it smell as well – Granny was not cooking anymore – but Christmas Eve was again a magical time as I hid in the basement and made strange sounds pretending I was Santa bringing the gifts. I could see the same wide open eyes, feel the same excitement….I loved it when, during the weeks before Christmas, we sat down at bedtime and I read them Christmas stories, from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to a delightful book where the main characters were a little mouse and a squirrel, who had all sort of Christmas adventures in beautiful snowy landscapes!
Those times are long past, and Christmas has become less and less of a magical occasion, divided between the bleak prospect of Christmas Eve with my ailing mother at the retirement home and my Christmas lunch with the boys and my birthday party later on Christmas day, the latter being the true happy moments of my Christmases of the last few years. With life bringing along challenges that seem harder and harder, that require inner strength and resilience that keep testing us further and further. Maybe because Christmas means the end of a year and the approaching of a new one, we tend to stop and think about our life and make a few wishes for the New Year, and I’m no exception.
This Christmas I will look back to the year that is ending and be eternally grateful that my children are healthy and strong; this is undoubtedly the greatest, most precious gift of all, especially when you have felt the claws of fear invade you; I will remember the trip to Mozambique, back to my past, and how wonderful it was to share with my boys my “own” Africa, its colours and smells and all the stories of my time there; I will be proud that my elder son Afonso has gained his degree at university, that Pedro has made his peace with his girlfriend and is feeling happy at long last. That my friend Gaby has overcome her breast cancer without need of chemotherapy and is feeling great, and will be celebrating her 51st birthday in a few weeks with all her friend and family around her – as last year she was in no mood to celebrate her fiftieth due to the terrible news she had just received.
I know I will remember this year as the beginning of great change in my life. From the moment, last summer, when I knew nothing would be the same again regarding my professional life, I have been preparing myself for that, slowly and yes, painfully, accepting the fact that this change is something I need, something unavoidable. This Christmas I will look to the year ahead of me and ask for courage to rid myself of bad old habits, preconceived ideas, old fears and most of all toxic people. Next year I will embrace change and have by my side those who truly love me and wish me well, and all the others will be discarded for they are like a heavy weight pulling me down, and when I let them go I will feel so much lighter and relieved; I will move on with my life. Next year I will fulfil my dream and my book will see the light of day; I can already envisage its cover with the girl surrounded by all her dreams…some of which have come true while others have not, but then, that is life.
This Christmas I will look at the lights of the Christmas tree and there will be wonder in my eyes, as in those Christmas of long ago. For I will hope that this moment that seems so complicated, that this crossroads I’m at, will suddenly unravel and all the pieces of the puzzle will fit and everything will be in its right place again. Oh yes, this Christmas I will receive one of the greatest gifts of all, that of believing that my dreams may, and will, come true.