Christmas in a bookstore

 

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Category: Reflections Date: 25 Dec 05

 

Phew! The stress is over. Merry Christmas, readers. The mad dash is over, the curtains done, the tree up, the house cleaned—and messed up again—the food cooked and consumed, presents delivered, received and exclaimed over, and now you’re ready for your bed.

 

No matter how many times I resolve not to get involved, I do. It means I have more running around to do, later.

 

I’m not Christian, but that magnet that draws you into buying presents, decorating the tree, teetering on a stool to reach the top so you can put on the star, getting tangled up with the lights, and whipping yourself into a frenzy with a gooey feeling for everyone you know is inescapable.

 

You feel the coolest breezes, brushing against faces and fairy lights, but there’s too little time for that.

 

This year I defected. To a bookshop. In a cold country. In Washington. I was in part inspired by my colleague Debbie Jacob, who wrote that she gives herself gifts of books at Christmas.

 

When friends in Washington asked, (I’m sure in jest) if I would come to see them at Christmas, I landed up at their doorstep with my immediate family standing in the freezing cold on their doorstep, and grinned at their shocked faces.

 

It was a good joke, and I’m sure they were relieved when I explained that we weren’t actually staying with them. We had come to spend Christmas in a bookshop.

 

The children were aghast. They wailed about the presents they weren’t getting, the pampering they were going to miss, the cold they were told to expect.

 

“Well, this year we are going to put books into Christmas,” I responded primly. They are minors and there’s nothing they could do about that.

 

Softening a bit, I promised them snow. They could play in it, I said; they could make ice angels or whatever they do in cold countries. They could sled, and ice-skate. My promises got wilder.

 

Being children, and still gullible, they, too, got excited.

 

We arrived on a cold crisp day and I had the heart to feel guilty as they put their tiny fingers into stale, hardened snow on pavements and parks (a week old, brown in parts) and threw snowballs at one another.

 

Every morning this past week we carefully examined the weather channel. There would be flurries here, and there would be a storm there.

 

They sat with their pens in hand and listed the places with snow. I shook my head regretfully. No, it would take us 17 hours by train to get to Chicago, and no; we couldn’t fly to Colorado either.

 

Then there was a breakthrough. There would be snow in Philadelphia. We planned the trip, but by the next day the snow was gone there, too.

 

My daughter said “we would be great snow storm disaster preventers. We take the sun everywhere.”

 

But a kind of Christmas magic did take over. To watch their transformation as we moved from Borders to Poetry and Prose, from little nook and cranny bookshops to big chains.

 

In the absence of presents, and toy stores, and shopping malls, and trees and food, they were just children, finding excitement wherever we took them.

 

They slid about in the remnants of snow, in little ice puddles. They threw stones in frozen lakes. They gaped at rows of old houses and monuments.

 

In the park, they ran freezing, through bare trees silhouetted against a shocking pink and orange sky. They gaped some more. They claimed every tree they saw.

 

The ones glimpsed through shop windows and people's homes. The huge ones lit outside. They got comfortable in bookshops and we dispersed to find our interests.

 

We met at the coffee shop every hour and exchanged notes. And even though from time to time, their eyes welled up with tears remembering loved ones at home, the magic of Christmas came through.

 

It doesn’t matter where you are, staring at an ice puddle or racing through a mall. It gets into you, warms the heart, whips you into a frenzy, fills you with hope, even if you’re miles away from a mall, with no snow, and tucked in bed with a good book.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur