I’m told that in the room where I greeted every Christmas of my childhood, people now sit each day until the doctor calls them back.
A dermatologist bought our old family home several years ago and converted it to a clinic, making the living room where we placed the tree and gifts into a waiting area for his patients.
How odd, I’ve sometimes thought, that the room where our Christmas waiting was finally fulfilled each December has become a place where the waiting never ends.
I haven’t been back to the place of those early Christmases since the house was sold. I’m not sad about the change; in fact, I’m delighted that a nice man devoted to healing has given an old and happy homestead new life.
Children grieve over the quickness of Christmas, mystified that a day they’ve held so tightly can, within a matter of mere hours, somehow escape them again for another year.
For many of us, the fleetingness of Christmas was our first hard lesson that life moves on, even when we sometimes wish it would not. Christmas carries the hint, which we fathom more fully as we age, that many other things are fleeting, too, including life itself.
Only in learning what lasts and what does not can we focus on what’s important. It’s why the true spirit of Christmas is spiritual, pointing us to something larger than ourselves.
I might go back to the old house one day but have no great urge to do so. The places we cherished as children always seem smaller when we return in middle age, as I discovered a few years ago when I revisited my grade school after decades. I asked to see my first-grade classroom, which I remembered as a cavernous chamber of chattering 6-year-olds. But the empty room had shrunk almost beyond recognition. I stood over the tiny desks and knew I no longer belonged there, a balding Goliath in search of a past that persisted only in memory.
It’s why I’ve stayed away from the old house, I guess, that first and formative landmark of yesterday’s Yuletides. The Christmases of memory would grow smaller against the hard grain of reality I’d find there, and no one wants a smaller Christmas.
The past is a pleasant place for those of us blessed with happy childhoods, but it’s not where Christmas keeps itself alive. My wife and I remember that each year when we watch “Scrooge,” the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
Old Scrooge finds some treasured holidays when a vision turns back the clock, but he comes to understand that the real Christmas is here and now, among the hands we hold today around the table, the faces lighted by the glow of the tree.
The waiting has ended this winter, and another Christmas is briefly within our grasp.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.