It’s Christmas at Shoe Lake, my childhood home. The snow has been falling for a few days now, so the world is white. The lake is frozen with three inches of ice, so my little brothers have been out shoveling a rink and flooding it with frigid water hauled with buckets from a hole in the ice. Figures whizzing down the hilly driveway on GT racers and Flexible Flyers are a common sight, as are the inevitable accompanying shrieks of delighted terror.
The house smells like wood smoke. Every morning, my dad lights a fire in the cook stove named Raven that presides over the kitchen and heats the whole downstairs. We fry our eggs and pancakes on the cast iron top and eat breakfast around the large harvest table, sipping mugs of foamy lattés while arguing over music selection for the Christmas Eve church service. As the day wears on, someone lights a fire in the fireplace and we migrate toward it, drawn magnetically and instinctively to its mesmerizing crackle and warmth. It’s a focal point for evening discussions, a cozy spot to read novels, work on some knitting.
By this afternoon, we’ll be in a mad rush to make it to church on time. My siblings and I are playing our violins and cello for a prelude and musical interludes throughout the service, and no matter how far in advance we try to prepare, it’s always chaotic. As the service ends, little candles will be passed out, a flame will travel through the congregation, and soon we’ll all stand in that magical darkness, broken only by the flickering candlelight on peaceful faces as we sing “Silent Night.” Leaving the church, we’ll be greeted by little paper bag lanterns lighting the way outside, and whether it’s snowing softly or the stars are crystal clear, there’s something about Christmas Eve that makes whatever weather always seem perfect for the occasion.
Christmas Day will bring us all together again, with the addition of whatever guests my parents have invited to join us. There will be nearly twenty-five people for the big, traditional ham dinner on Christmas Day, including an Indian-Canadian family recently moved from Saskatchewan to a Brazilian friend of mine who’s visiting for a few weeks, and a reclusive uncle recently returned from Laos. It always makes for an interesting mix of people and unfailingly fascinating conversations, helped along by the free-flowing wine.
Best of all, as we fall into bed exhausted on the 25th, it’s not over yet. The next week will be full of travel, family gatherings, and feasts of delectable food that recharge not only our bodies but also our souls. There will be live music everywhere we go, spontaneous dancing in the kitchen, passionate arguments around the table, and long hikes in the cold that turn our cheeks and ears rosy. That’s precisely what makes it so wonderful.