They always say that it’s the things that don’t work out- the parties that end disastrously, the trips that go spectacularly awry- that you remember best. That is certainly true for me when it comes to Christmas.
I was 7… or 8. Santa was still real, toys were still the best presents, and Christmas was still the best thing ever. I came home from the last day of school before the long break feeling a little more lethargic than usual. By the next day I had a high fever and could barely get out of bed. My parents did what they always did when either my brother or I got sick- they set me up on the couch so they could keep an eye on me. My family hovered around the living room for all family activities and the couch was the center of that. I loved being sick for that reason- all the extra attention and all.
On Christmas eve I was still pretty ill and I didn’t want to move from the couch because, well, I didn’t want to move. My dad was all ready to let me stay there when my mom pulled him aside, angrily explaining that if I was there I would “see Santa.” (That should’ve been a clue for me, but I was 7 and really quite sick.) So I got sent to bed.
The next morning I was so excited that I convinced myself I was feeling better, and I ran out to the tree with all the giddy energy I normally displayed for the holiday. My brother and I tore into our presents like carnivorous animals, tossing wrapping paper about like discarded bones. There were the typical squeals of delight and enthusiastic ‘thank you’s and my mom was glowing.
But then I started getting lightheaded, then dizzy and I barely made my way to the couch before collapsing. I remember trying to push some of the wrapping paper aside in order to make a space to land on and it feeling like it was made of iron. My mom, upon seeing that I wasn’t interested in opening the rest of my presents instantly knew that something was wrong.
A minute later the thermometer confirmed it and I was back on the couch, cold compress on my head and blanket covering me like a burrito. I don’t even remember the rest of the morning and I’m pretty sure I slept through Christmas dinner.
I didn’t get better until a day or so before the winter break was over and it was time to go back to school and I’m pretty sure I complained to all my friends about how I’d spent the entire vacation sick with the flu. I have no doubt that it was my biggest tale of woe for years.
And yet, when I think back on Christmases from my childhood, that’s the one that I remember. And in the warm glow of sentiment it isn’t being sick or missing the festivities or not having the energy to open my presents that I really remember. It’s lying on the couch, firmly blanketed, with my family surrounding the tv as we watched some Christmas movie. It’s the fact that there was so much wrapping paper that I couldn’t clear away, that my mom was so protective of the Santa illusion, that there was a wonderful turkey dinner I slept through.
Somehow, that Christmas shows me how incredibly lucky I was, how much I was loved, how exceptionally good I had it. That’s the one that registers as the best Christmas, even though I’m sure most of the great things are misplaced pieces from other years. That Christmas sits atop a pedestal above all the others in my mind as the perfect holiday.
Funny how memory works like that.