When I was a child, we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. After dinner, which was usually ham with those wonderful mashed sweet potatoes covered with melted marshmallows, we read Bible verses, sang carols to my accompaniment on the piano—I played badly—and said a prayer. Santa came overnight, but we opened the presents from relatives and friends on Christmas Eve.
Most of my friends opened their presents on Christmas Eve, too. In fact, my friend Karen even received her presents from Santa that night. Following dinner, her father took the family out to see the Christmas lights, while her mother stayed behind, probably using the excuse that she had to wash the dinner dishes. When Karen returned, lo and behold, Santa had come. She’d just missed him. It happened every year. I wonder if she ever figured that out.
There was the Christmas we went to Gram and Grandad Dana’s in Moline, where all Mom’s family lived. The house was filled with grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The gifts were simple. I don’t remember the presents, but I remember the excitement of being with so many people I loved.
For years after I was married, we celebrated with family, mine and my husband’s. But then our grandparents and then our parents died. Others scattered. So now, Christmas is just our own family—in Georgetown.
Georgetown is like a Christmas card village. I’ve written before about how magical it is with the snow draped across the fences, the houses lighted, the town decorated with greens and lights, and even a lighted tree high up on the mountain.
The town celebration starts with Christmas Market. People come from all over to see St. Nicholas and the Santa Lucia girls who come down the street in their white dresses trimmed in red and green, carrying candles. There’s a bonfire in the downtown park and booths that sell cider and coffee, breads and pastries and bratwurst, along with hand-made goods. The shops of course, are all decorated, and there is a horse-drawn wagon to take visitors through the town. Christmas Market this year is Dec. 7 and 8, 14 and 15.
My favorite pre-Christmas activity is the cantata, some 30 singers who perform at the Presbyterian Church on Dec. 1 and again the week after New Year’s at the Catholic Church. You wouldn’t think that a town the size of Georgetown would produce so many wonderful voices, but people there are musically talented. I’m glad that Bob will be among them this year, and I’m sure everyone is glad that I will not.
Most Christmases, our reduced family gathers on Christmas Eve. The Bride’s House (and gazebo) are decorated on the outside with white lights and silver stars and on the inside with handmade adornments, such as the wreath our grandson, Forrest, made for us. My decorating skills leave something to be desired, but no matter, because at Christmas, everything looks good.
After dinner, we attend the Christmas Eve service at the Presbyterian Church, which is lighted with candles and smells of evergreens. Then we walk home over snow-packed streets and try to get Forrest to go to bed, because we know he will be up early.
I hear him creep down the stairs in the early morning and rush to his stocking on the fireplace. Then he wakes everyone to announce that Santa has come.
This year, Povy and her family will travel to Asia, so our gathering at the Bride’s House will be just Bob, Dana, and me. But no matter. We don’t all have to be together to celebrate that day of love and peace. We share Christmas in our hearts. —SD
Bob and I attended the Women Writing the West convention in Kansas City in mid-October, where I received a Willa Award for True Sisters and was an award finalist for The Quilt Walk. It was gratifying to see how women bond and support each other. I always urge any woman who asks for advice on writing to join WWW because the organization is not only educational but nurturing. The diverse styles, subject matter and formats women employ in their writing is impressive. The conference is also fun, and it’s spawned enduring friendships. One of the highlights was spending a few minutes with my dear friend, Jane Kirkpatrick, whose books I love.
Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair. By Anne Lamott. Riverhead Books
You already know how much I love Anne’s Lamott’s books on faith. Stitches is the best since her Traveling Mercies. The book tells how to deal with loss. Lamott doesn’t have all the answers, but she has some. “Helping one another stand up in a wind and stay warm” is just about the best way, she writes.
She gives advice on what to tell—or not tell—people coping with tragedy. Many of us stay away because we don’t know what to say or fear saying the wrong thing. “It is not helpful to many people if you say that it’s all part of God’s perfect plan or that it’s for the highest good,” she writes. In fact, she advises, it’s okay just to be there and keep your mouth shut.
Of course, this is Anne Lamott, and the book is not just helpful but hilarious. If you’re just learning how to forgive, she says, it’s not necessary to start with the Gestapo.
The Gods of Guilt. By Michael Connelly. Little, Brown.
I’m pretty fond of Michael Connelly, too, and of course, I’m not the only one. The Gods of Guilt makes up for last year’s book, which read as if he’d phoned it in. These gods are the jury, who not only decide guilt or innocence but life and death.
This is another Lincoln Lawyer book about the lawyer who works out of his car instead of an office. Connelly diverged from his best-selling detective series about Harry Bosch a few books back when he introduced Mickey Haller, Bosch’s half-brother. Haller is an ambulance chaser with a number of flaws, but ultimately, he is a good guy who works hard on behalf of his clients. In this case, the client is Andre La Cosse, a digital pimp who runs websites for hookers. He’s accused of murdering a prostitute, a woman Haller thought had left the life—left with his help.
Haller decides early on that La Cosse has been set up, and he pulls out all the stops to prove it to the gods of guilt. Those gods aren’t just sitting in a jury box. Haller has his own issues to deal with, so this book is also about dealing with the gods of guilt in ordinary life.—SD