I have always loved Christmas because of the carols, the smell of food and cookies, the cold in the room where we kept our Christmas tree. The house was lively, the fire was strong, our hearts were waiting for Jesus to be born and Santa to arrive. We could hardly wait to see our presents, though the decorating itself was more entertaining than whatever toys Santa was going to bring us.
We always dropped the most beautiful balls, we went back and forth through the house, letting the cold in to the great disapproval and anger of my grandmother. Dad was the one decorating the tree with us, Mom and Grandma were cooking and baking and Grandpa was overseeing that everything went exactly as planned, meaning the food was good and plenty to feed an army of hungry relatives in the days to come.
Our house was a regular one, with beige walls on the outside, surrounded by a garden with flowers and an apple tree, and it had two entrances: the big one for guests, with a porch and large steps, the smaller one, around the corner, for inhabitants’ use, small and ugly, adjacent to a summer kitchen that was sheltering pork ribs and sausages hanged to be smoked. The inside of the house was divided into four bedrooms, a dining room and “the cellar room”, as we called it, because the cellar was right under it. The furniture was old, made from wood, we had huge carpets in every room and big beds meant to make your back hurt like hell, instead of making you sleep well. You went from one room to another, thus you couldn’t have any sort of privacy. The house is tall, so the rooms were cool in the summer and even cooler in the winter, making our efforts to heat them useless.
On December 24th, every year, this big, cold house became the warmest place, animated by the work and enthusiasm of our family. The dining room is where we kept our Christmas tree, because it was colder than the rest so the tree could last longer. Decorating would always start at about four in the afternoon, so that we could finish it after dark and see how the lights looked like. Thinking at it, there are a few things that have never missed from the Christmas-tree-decorating scene: the cold, the tree always in the same corner of the room, the traditional Romanian carols sang by Stefan Hrusca and my dad smoking. There is also the smell of pine tree, my mom passing by to check on us and to have a smoke where grandpa couldn’t see her. My brother and I fighting, singing carols, and him asking when Santa was going to come, what presents was he going to get….
When we were done decorating the tree, we all gathered to turn on the lights and listen quietly in the dark to some more carols. Outside was either snowing or very cold, but we were just so happy we had Christmas… For us, it wasn’t all about Santa, it was about how Mary went to Bethlehem to give birth to baby Jesus, about her hard journey, the warm stable, the animals, and angels, it was about a star shining more than the others. We too had our star, our family…
After that, we all went to the kitchen, to help Mom and Grandma finish cooking. We chopped the veggies for the Boeuf salad, we helped with the baking and frosting, but most of all, we were in their way. At one point in the evening, Dad or Mom would sneak out and place the presents under the tree and have us discover them by accident. Santa never stayed, because he was in a hurry to get to all the children in the world, but that was ok, we knew how important he was.
Just as we knew how lucky we were, just as we knew that we should appreciate Christmas day because it was so much more special than the others, we should be grateful for our presents, our food, our Christmas tree. What we didn’t know was that all these will fade and eventually disappear, will be lost in a pile of old boxes in the attic, in between the pages of old photo albums now perished, only to appear during those Christmases that don’t smell the same, don’t taste the same, don’t look the same and most certainly don’t feel the same….