When I was a little girl (I don’t remember exactly how old) I was spending the night at my grandma’s house on Christmas eve. I’m not sure how I got the idea in my head that something very special was supposed to happen at midnight on that night (perhaps it was from the Christian kids in my public school?), but I was trying very very hard to stay awake as long as possible.
Luckily this particular grandma was the type who was somewhat easily persuaded to do things like play endless games of gin rummy with way-too-young-to-be-up-so-late little girls, so we stayed up until 8, 9, 10, and then 11pm. Some time after 11 my grandma finally had enough and decided she needed to go to bed, but I was not to be derailed by something so mundane as an overtired grandma. I checked her bookshelf, but this particular grandma was also the type who read mostly Harlequin romances- hardly the type of thing that sparked my interest at whatever tender young age I was at the time. I think I ended up inventing some sort of game with poker chips and clear discs I found in the game cabinet, and about midnight I was rewarded for my efforts with one of the coolest experiences ever.
It was a cold Michigan night and my grandma lived in a basement apartment, so when you looked out of her windows pretty much all you could see was the pavement covered in snow. If you looked at the correct angle you could see the rooftops of neighboring apartment buildings, also blanketed in fluffy white snow. The sky was clear and the night was silent. Literally at midnight on the dot, though, sleigh bells started ringing. From somewhere- who knew where?- bells began to jingle. Nobody was visible, and nothing else changed, but I believe that the stars twinkled just a bit while the bells were sounding. Then, just as suddenly as they started, they stopped.
I had no expectation of bells, nor even really of Santa. After all, I was a Jewish kid without a tree or a stocking, or a Christmas holiday or any such traditions. Sure I watched the Peanuts Christmas special, and of course the Grinch (both of which made me cry), but that was about as far as my official knowledge base extended. But in that moment, I was a believer. Not of Jesus and Christianity, but of the beauty and majesty of the season. Of the whole peace on Earth and tra-la-la-la-la thing.
If you had asked me if I had harked to hear angels singing, I just might have said yes.
I know some people get a little crazy about not wishing people a Merry Christmas. There are people who are careful to only say “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” or other sanitized generic non-wishes. But who are they kidding? Do most of those people (don’t kill me here- I said MOST!) hedge their bets because the person they are speaking to may celebrate Kwanzaa and they don’t want to offend? I don’t think so. Chances are if you are in America the person you are speaking to celebrates Christmas, and chances are that if they don’t, they won’t get offended if you wish them a Merry Christmas by mistake. It’s not like I go around shouting Christmas wishes in everyone’s face this time of year. But if someone wants to say Merry Christmas to me, I’ll admit that it always makes me remember that night at my grandma’s house all those years ago and how magical it was to hear something so special that seemed meant only for me.