First Christmas

First Christmas

Our First Christmas in our new home stands out in my mind & heart as the capping moment of our house building adventure.  Here’s the story of that special time, which I call the “48 Christmas.”

I’ve always loved Christmas… and never stopped believing in Santa. I look forward to the season almost as soon as it ends, anticipating its return, the day after Thanksgiving. This is when the watershed of festivities begin: decorations brought down from the attic, lights strung up outside, and best of all— the Christmas music played— for an entire month!

In truth, there have been some desperate years when I unpacked the holiday tunes long before it was “officially” legitimate, but I restricted myself to instrumental selections, careful not to delve any further.

This past year, however, I began sneaking into the carols earlier than ever (July!) We had just moved from one rental to another while embarking on the task of building our first home (my husband doing most of it himself). What was meant to be a temporary living situation, “just for the summer,” was extended, again and again when the house was not completed “on time.”

When the leaves began to fall, I had to face the possibility that my holidays might be celebrated in this rental rather than in our new home as we had expected. I began playing Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole– a line I’ve never crossed before– but even they didn’t cheer me.

On one particularly gray day in November, my sister in Florida emailed, inviting us for a visit as she often did. “Only if we can stay till the house is finished!” I replied in frustration.

To both of our surprise, she answered,” COME!” And thus, just weeks before the Christmas favorites could be played out in the open, I flew south with my boys.

Leaving during the holidays was hard for me. Though I enjoyed my relatives’ traditions, the season wasn’t the same without my own things– and without snow and mountains and sledding.

When my sister’s family decorated their home on an eighty-degree day, I found myself withdrawn and sad; and when that night of all nights came— the one to adorn the evergreen, I couldn’t help thinking of my own ornaments packed away.

In light of world affairs, of families separated by war and devastation, mine seemed a trifling preoccupation, but I couldn’t shake it.

As Christmas approached, the phone calls between Florida and Vermont increased. We each felt the growing strain of our separation, desperate to be reunited. With each conversation, there were reports of progress (or delays) on the house.

After a long day of teaching, my husband would head over to the building site to spend  long and lonely winter nights: framing, sheetrocking, spackling, flooring; installing cabinets, fixtures, bathrooms; and finishing electric and plumbing. It seemed endless, but we both held onto the dream that we’d celebrate Christmas together– in our new home.

After weeks and weeks of anticipation (and three visits to Disney), the boys and I kissed my sister’s family goodbye, and boarded a plane for New England. We arrived in the wee hours of December 22nd, the first day of winter, when the airports were full of folks flying in the opposite direction.

We arrived without knowing for certain if my husband had been able to finish the house, but as we turned the corner of the terminal, and saw his familiar smile behind the gate, nothing else mattered. There was no better homecoming than the warmth and certainty of his embrace after such a long absence.

That first morning in Vermont, I woke to the sun kissing my face. There are few commodities as precious as sun in a northern climate, particularly at the start of a cold day.

The eastern light through my bedroom window was such a delight that it distracted me from the rawness of my surroundings– the unpainted walls; the yellow insulation foam hanging from windows; the rough and unfinished floors; the invasion of cluster flies from an exposed attic; and the lack of doors anywhere, even on the bathroom.

My husband was up and off to work already, and the boys slept beside me, in this, the only livable bedroom.

I was pretty groggy that first day back in Vermont and didn’t do much but unpack the bathing suits and search for boots and snowpants. In the afternoon, I wandered downstairs, and fixed some tea in “my” kitchen on my new stove; sipping it while I watched the boys sled down the hill in our own front yard– a light snow falling.

When my husband arrived “home” from school late that afternoon, our holiday (and our lives here) began. With only 48 hours to unfold, we scuttled to create a Christmas together.

We found one of the last trees at a stand down the road, bought a half-priced wreath and poinsettia, picked up some last minute food at the grocery store, and unpacked a single box of our favorite holiday things. The tree was decorated and the cookies for Santa baked just before the boys were tucked in Christmas Eve.

What had once taken weeks to carefully execute, was joyfully prepared in just two days. The tempo lent a heightened excitement to our festivities, and something more precious– a slowing of expectations.

In 48 hours, Christmas can’t be perfect. I had to let go of so much that had once felt so important, and I had to hold onto that which I treasure most: the company of my family, around a Christmas tree, in our new home, while carols played all the day long.

Kelly Salasin, 2004

To read my husband’s version of this same time, click here.

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