She is going up the subway stairs with her mother. They have been downtown for some Christmas shopping and they are carrying many bags. Outside, the evening is cold, but the smell of roasting nuts – so typical of Lisbon at this time of the year – feels like a warm welcome. In the distance she hears the sounds of the latest Christmas hit “Last Christmas” by Wham. She sings along and her mother cheerfully joins in. They walk home feeling the cold wind in their faces – little do they know that many years from now the sound of that song and the smell of roasting chestnuts will always bring back cherished memories of that happy Christmas.
His plane lands. London Heathrow is beautiful with all the Christmas decorations – no one celebrates Christmas like the British, that’s for sure, he thinks. As he passes by all the lights and trees and angels his thoughts go back to the year that is ending. Another terrible year, he thinks. The last few years have been difficult for him, a demanding but unrewarding job, the passing away of his mother, so many worries…this insatisfaction growing inside him like a monster, this depression he seems incapable of getting rid of…he gets into the taxi and he dozes. The flight was an early one and he is exhausted. Startled, he wakes up to find out he has arrived. He rings the bell and as his son opens the door they hold each other tight. He goes – no, he flies – up the stairs and looks for the tiny baby he left only a few weeks ago, a baby now more than a month old, and as he picks her up and looks into her bright, inquisitive eyes he feels happy, he feels at peace, all sad, unhappy thoughts left behind, and he hears himself whisper softly, very softly “Merry Christmas, baby. Granddad is here with you”. Oh, yes, he thinks as he looks up and sees his smiling son and daughter in law, this is going to be an unforgettable Christmas. My first as a grandfather.
The plane lands at Madeira airport. This time she does not feel the exhilaration of other arrivals. She feels tired and sad. Mechanically she waits for her suitcase and she looks at all the beautiful Christmas decorations indifferently. When she comes out she glimpses her sister and her brother in law and manages a smile. She kisses and hugs her sister and finally she breaks down and tears run down her face. Her sister is crying too. They compose themselves and head for the car.
At home the chair at the head of the table is empty. Only last summer, when she came for her summer holidays, her father was there, so bright, so cheerful. Now, only silence. She will no longer see his smile, no longer hear his beloved voice, no longer hear him make the Christmas toast…this is very hard to face, but it’s the inevitable truth.
On Christmas Eve they try to be cheerful for the children. They exchange gifts and someone else makes the toast. It feels strange, different. Empty. She has lost her father, and Christmas will never be the same again.
24th of December. A beautiful winter day, cold but sunny. They meet on a deserted beach – aren’t all beaches deserted in winter? – and they walk on the sand, hand in hand, for a long time, without saying anything, just feeling the sheer pleasure of being together.
They had been falling in love for some time, but only recently admitted it: after all, they are not so young anymore, and they have both left complicated stories behind; but now they have found each other and believe their feelings for each other are something worth fighting for. They want to do so many things together, they have so many plans…for the time being, just to be together feels wonderful; just being there on the beach, with the cold wind on their faces and the taste of salt in their lips is enough for them to be happy.
Later they will have to part: they will celebrate Christmas with their respective families. It is much too soon for them to celebrate it together, but the warmth of their love will sustain them while apart and they know their love will endure and they will live through many Christmases together. They believe that one day, many years from this first Christmas of their love, they will look back and remember this unique moment by the sea when love was new and everything was possible and they will laugh and say “My God, it has been a long time”…and they will hold hands and again be thankful that they have found each other in this life.
When they finally leave the beach they walk to their cars, arms around each other. They know the moment is over, but only for today. They will have many happy moments together. They hug each other and wish each other Merry Christmas. They feel happy even if they have to go their separate ways for now. After all, it’s Christmas, and Christmas feels so much better when you are in love.
She is decorating the Christmas tree. Her 14 year old son has been helping her but has now disappeared– probably texting someone in the privacy of his room. Christmas songs are playing on the radio and she lets her mind wander back to the year that is now ending – a very challenging year, a year of major changes in her life – changes that required enormous strength on her part. For many months, maybe years, she had been building a strong resolve – she wanted to quit work; her demanding, executive career no longer satisfied her, she wanted to do something else, to dedicate her life to helping people. She no longer enjoyed what she was doing and at a certain point it became unbearable and she fell into a deep depression.
Those were trying months. She had to take very strong medication and it barely allowed her to stay awake. She slept for many hours, even during the day, and her speech was blurred. She could not concentrate and she was afraid she would never get back to normal again. In the midst of this process she understood she could never go back to her job and as she slowly recovered her resolve became stronger and, as afraid as she was of taking such a momentous decision, she decided to resign and to build a new career doing exactly what she loves; she is currently doing training while building a network of clients, and she will certainly be successful, not only because she is a great professional but because she will be passionate about her work as well. She has already helped many people and will continue to do so, because this is her mission in life.
As she puts the golden star on top of the Christmas tree she smiles. What a year, she thinks. But it is over now, and I have fought and won very important battles. I have changed my life, I’ve steered it in the right direction. Now I just have to follow my path. I am happy and fulfilled. I believe in myself. I am now true to myself. I have found myself. I have taken my life in my hands and I have had the courage to change it. I’m confident about the future, I picture myself as a happy, fulfilled professional and, above all, a happy person.
Yes, she thinks, this is going to be a very happy Christmas. The first Christmas of the rest of my life.