Derek Becher – Finding Christmas: Tales And Poems Of The Spirit Of Christmas
So many years have passed so quickly, quietly, somehow without notice. And though I’ve never returned to the wonderful, still countryside I called home throughout my youth, like yesterday, I remember being there, breathing, living there. And while my mind constantly strays to many of those marvelous memories, and my heart coincidentally feels the warmth of each, the fondest recollections I cherish now are of my childhood Christmases. Of these, the one I remember so vividly and right was our trip home every year from the Christmas Eve service.
Small though it was, our church was always full, particularly on Christmas Eve. Friends and relations from miles around would gather to warm the church with their presence; so much so that despite the clear chill sneaking in from the calm outdoors, inside together, we were wonderfully warmed as our hearts were filled with love and song. Closely we listened to the story of Christmas, and I often pondered how peaceful and serene it must have been that first holy night. Afterwards, we all gathered in the porch to both offer and receive Christmas blessings; and then, once bundled up, and one family at a time, we departed on separate journeys for welcoming homes. Secretly we were about to embark on my favourite journey, my favourite part of Christmas – I remember it well…
…With Christmas Eve slipping away, the stars dance and twinkle high overhead on the black canvas of the night sky. Father directs Hopper and Bells, though they know the way, and mother, with hands tucked snuggly in her muffler, quietly slips into a peaceful slumber. Despite the chill, we children stay warm, cozily wrapped in our scarves and toques, snuggling together beneath the wool checkered blanket on the hay of our two horse sleigh. The church lights still beam through distant icy windows, but now fade slowly behind rolling hills and evergreen trees dressed in a thick coat of soft, white frost. The rhythmic breathing of my siblings means that they too are nearly asleep. As for me, my treasured Christmas present resumes.
Few lights greet our snowy path, which slowly winds nearly eight miles through Pinecone Valley; but the two candle lanterns attached to iron canes at the rear of the sleigh cast a soft golden glow that surrounds us, and the starry sky that blankets the earth – along with the bright sheen of the moon – provide more than enough light to lead us home. Ahead, the horses’ breaths float upward, dissipating along tiny wisps of nothingness. All around, the evergreens grow thick and tall, and seem to enjoy each other’s company, for they never stand alone. Sometimes they come up to and touch our trail, like friends along the way. Everywhere, the snow is pillowy soft, providing powdery warmth for the trees, and blanketing the ground. And a trillion little diamonds dance and run across the snow beneath the starry Christmas Eve sky.
Shushhh, the rudders glide over the snow. Mostly straight, our path gently rises and softly lowers, revealing new treasures behind each knoll, or from around an occasional corner. Slowly we cross the covered Ribbon Creek bridge, which is now adorned with wreaths of holly and bright red ribbons at both ends; closely below, the frosty creek curls and winds away over and around tiny hills to disappear into the trees. Forty counts later, as usual, we make a soft turn right, and dip into a tiny section of the valley where we always find the best tree for our Christmas home.
As we gently rise once more, I see snow crystals dancing between the stars and me. We cross a second bridge over Ribbon Creek, and I can see the tracks further up the hill where we sledded this morning. All around us, the friendly animals are nestling in their homes, except for the occasional deer or rabbit that skips out to greet us, pausing briefly to inhale the Christmassy air before returning to be with its family in its forestry home. Everywhere, the starry calmness of Christmas blankets the earth and, for one night at least, provides a feeling of infinite peace and joyful hope; and tiny hairs stand and dance along my arms as I shiver in the warm feeling I receive.
Faraway in the distance, at the end of a loop around a tiny frozen pond where we skated only several hours ago, I can faintly see the light of the shiny star we hung on our front gate, and the softly glowing bulbs trimming the eaves and windows of our home.
Mother still sleeps, and father casts a quick glance back to peruse all his children, except me, quietly sleeping. With the gleam of an unusual star in his eye, he winks and again turns forward. The still silence I notice the most, so peaceful, so beautifully quiet, telling me that tonight the world embraces hope and joy, beneath our dark, starry skies. With maybe two hundred counts left to go, I feel comfortably alone in a tranquil glowing world, reliving a familiar moment of serenity in the glittering blue December night.
Slowly it’s evolved before me; I know how it goes, but I never fail to feel the happiness and surprise of receiving each instant of such a precious gift. I bask in it, and know that before long, we will return to our home, so wonderfully decorated and warm, to sleep and dream of Christmas morning.
As we turn up our drive, I feel the mixed tingle of anticipation and calmness as I arouse from my conscious muse, the unfolding of a forty minute journey that I solitarily treasure in the quietude of Christmas Eve along our easy country trail. As the rest of my family awakens from a wintry nap, I am glad I stayed awake again to see and feel the serenity of Christmas…
We’ve all grown up now, and mother and father are gone, surely living every day now in the joy of the hopeful spirit of Christmas. Sadly, our old home is now but a house, sitting empty and crooked, and alone. But for the most precious years of my life, it marked the end of a magical journey that led us every Christmas Eve from a celebratory church service through the forest and hills of Pinecone Valley, and over the wooden bridges of Ribbon Creek, through a period of time and a feeling that seemed to stand still, while I observed and pondered the peacefulness and the true meaning of Christmas.