In 2016, Carol and I celebrated Christmas with our respective spouses. In 2017, we celebrated Christmas as widows. In 2018, we celebrated our first Christmas together. That's a lot of change for three Christmases. Fundamental change. Seismic change. Dramatic change. WTF change.
It's the kind of change that it's probably a good thing we don't do Christmas letters. Where would you start? On the other hand, since a lot of those letters start out, “Well, there were a lot of changes this past year…” ours might read like a Greek play. Or a short story collection. Or a romantic comedy with Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson.
I did manage to preserve some tradition from over the years. But in watching Love Actually with Carol for the first time together, the image of the casket in the Bay City Rollers scene hit me hard, when it hadn't done so before. (I skipped the movie in 2017.) But I did tear up at the usual place at the end of It's a Wonderful Life, and Carol has now learned that not only did she get mixed up with a boy, but one who weeps.
I may have started a new Christmas Eve tradition with the Madigan clan: a New Orleans-themed dinner. With red beans and rice, jambalaya and bread pudding, I overdid it on the starch, but as we say in the Big Easy, “if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing.” I may have netted a new Saints fan in the deal, which I suspect in time, Carol (like my kids) will never forgive me for.
The Madigans’ Christmas day tradition begins with a family breakfast attended in your pajamas. Since I sleep (spoiler alert and TMI combined) in my skivvies, I was persuaded to wear my jogging attire in lieu of my pj's, much to relief of all present. The all day affair morphs into a casual dinner for which the jammies may remain. The biggest change for me was celebrating the holiday out of doors here in southern California in dry, mild and sunny conditions.
With all this change, it would not be a surprise to expect some sort of letdown or emotional backslide. A divorce, a marriage, a death and then a new relationship all in the space of about six years could produce an emotional whiplash, especially for someone who cries annually at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. But this has been one of the happiest, merriest Christmases I’ve ever experienced. I spent it with someone who already makes me feel I’ve known her all my life. Carol is surfeited by a loving, laughing and living-up-to-the-hilt kind of family. They’re like too many presents spilling out from under the tree.
It’s been a Christmas that I can look forward to embracing in the years ahead (a little less starch in the Christmas Eve dinner, all right, a LOT less starch). And maybe this has been a Christmas where I’ve experienced its true meaning. If Christmas is meant to celebrate the birth of a Savior (instead of same day delivery on Christmas Eve, for crying out loud), then I’ve nailed its true meaning, because I feel reborn and most certainly saved.