Jan 6, 2007

On the Ninth Day of Christmas...

... I was initiated into a very special and solemn aspect of adulthood, time-honored and inviolate. What is it, you ask? Education? Graduation? Employment? Marriage? Parenthood? Taxes?

No, the rite of passage of which I speak is that sacred Christmas Eve ritual, the Assembly of the Presents.

This year there was only one, a blue and yellow tricycle with a push-handle (since her legs can't reach the pedals). After we returned from the Christmas Eve gathering and put the Wunchie to bed, I was pretty tired and just wanted to sleep. But instead, I brewed some tea and put on a movie, and sat down with 1) several dozen screws, washers, and strange pieces of metal and plastic, 2) one set of instructions (in English, Spanish, and French), and 3) every screwdriver and allen wrench I could find in the toolbox. I couldn't have felt more liturgical if I had been blessing the communion elements. I read instructions and watched the movie, and lost several nuts and washers amongst the couch cushions, and thought about how many times my parents must have done this for me. I remembered the glasses of milk and plates of cookies we left for Santa, and how they were magically consumed by the time we awoke, and how exciting it was to find the little note that read, "Thank You." (Even now I can remember just how it looked, and can now realize that it was, in fact, my dad's distinctive handwriting.) Did they split the cookies, and did those carrots we left for Rudolph just go back in the fridge?

I also remembered one more recent Christmas, before I was married, that I spent with my mom's family in south Texas. With four grandchildren in the mix, there were lots of adults assembling toys in the living room that Christmas Eve. And the whole thing took on an almost surreal feel for me. This, it seemed to me, was an enactment of a serious duty, a commitment to maintaining the excitement of a young child's Christmas. They'll know the truth about Santa soon enough; for tonight, the mystery remains, and it rests squarely on the shoulders of these committed elves, preparing the feast for the morning.

This sounds pretty corny, I know. But as I sat with those tools and instructions, I was struck by how... significant it felt to be assembling that little tricycle. Knowing that at that very moment, parents near and far were doing the same thing, for the same reason -- to make their children happy, and to allow them that precious, all too fleeting season of genuine childhood. Soon enough, the mysteries will be more complicated, and harder to find. Here's to a fresh and unspoilt gift of a tricycle, and of wonder.

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