It can be challenging, as an adult, to find your Christmas spirit. I don’t mean an enthusiasm for putting up the tree, or stringing some lights, or indulging in a pitcher of eggnog. I mean that strange, tingly anticipation that’s got my daughter dancing through the apartment, throwing tinsel over every surface. The sensation that something completely marvelous is about to happen—even if you no longer believe in any such thing as Santa Claus.
The closest I come these days is, of course, related to books and words. And yes, my selections are probably corny, but I suspect that unabashed corniness is a prerequisite for Christmas spirit. The first of my picks is this:
More commonly known as “The night before Christmas,” Clement C. Moore’s classic poem has been a standard in our house since my daughter was born 11 years ago. I’ve read it to her on Christmas Eve every year, and she now firmly insists on this tradition. I suspect someone, somewhere, at some time, read this to me as well, although there’s no evidence of it beyond my own internalizing of the words and how dang tingly they they always make me when I read them aloud.
The second is this:
Last year I downloaded the audio file of Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales and forced my family to listen to it. I’m not sure how enthused they were by it but it did give me the tingly feeling. This tradition actually comes from the family of an old boyfriend of mine; they had the essay on record, narrated by Dylan Thomas himself in his old-fashioned, too-swift and too-clipped accent, and played it as we sipped a lot of whiskey in their living room. Maybe that was the essential component missing for my own family—drunkenness. As I recall, there’s also a lovely little film made from the story. But the nostalgia of listening rather than watching seems to strike the right Christmasy mood.
Finally, the tradition of watching this beautiful film goes back to the years before my daughter was born and it evokes a Christmas nostalgia of quite another kind—one I’m not sure I’m eager to dredge up this year—of people and iterations of ourselves that have been long forgotten and when remembered, are revealed to be utterly lost to us. I suppose a certain tingliness comes to play in there somewhere; but it has a bittersweet bite of nostalgia to it. The James Joyce story itself is a masterpiece; but somehow this small film, in which not much happens, achieves a visual lyricism that makes it well worth watching year after year, with or without the tingle.