Holiday Digest: ‘Twas the Night

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By Amy Capron

The first Christmas you were no longer with us, our girls were all grown, the first grandbaby was born, and we celebrated the holiday among loved ones in Laguna Beach with the big extended family, including cousins and grandparents who were still alive and able. 

Our French country manor was a mere memory.

But Mon Cheri, do you remember the night before Christmas when our precious girls were so little? We would pull out all the packages and bundles of toys. We were like St. Nicholas, minus the sleigh, for we had driven to the store, reviewing all lists and letters to Père Noël written with our assistance by the girls. Such a simple, beautiful time! They were so easy to please, asking only for Barbies, roller skates and plastic kitchen sets. 

Together, we sat nestled before a roaring fire with logs from the nearby forest and toasted good fortune with a bottle of French Chablis. We nibbled on chocolates, savoring the sweetness of life, our children, and their eyes—how they twinkled while reading “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” We tucked them in and closed the shutters. We hoped they would settle down for a long winter’s nap, but no, there would be several attempts to descend the old creaking 19th-century staircase, checking to make sure we had put out Petit Ecolier cookies and “real” chocolate milk, thick and syrupy. Finally, as the evening wore on, we felt their excitement adjourn as sleepiness overtook them while they lay all snug in each other’s beds with visions of new toys and sugary treats dancing in their heads.

During the night, I always hoped it would snow, and sometimes it did. We would awake to a fine powdery layer of white dust, like sugar, the new fallen snow covering the lawn and branches of bare trees. The children were so raring to go that before sunrise, they were like little mice scurrying down the well-polished winding staircase, careful not to slip in their wooly socks that kept their tiny feet warm from the early morning cold.

Three little faces peeped through the stair’s carved spindles, each delighted to see the magic moment that they had dreamt about, created for them. 

The hot ash from the logs burning overnight in the fireplace reignited while Christmasy jazz, New Orleans style, played on the stereo. Under the tree, our playful pup Pepper pranced and pawed at the pile of gifts wrapped the night before in vibrant, shiny paper and bows. The massive stone fireplace, chiseled with a boar’s head, was covered by our homemade stockings hung by the chimney with care.

The coffee table was piled high with sweet panettone, rich chocolate croissants, and ripe, in-season Corsican clementines with stems and leaves still on them. Steam from hot, aromatic French espresso wafted up to our rosy cheeks and chilled cherry noses.

Such fond memories of that delicious long-ago time.

In Laguna, it was different, but we embraced the holiday spirit. We drove out Laguna Canyon Road and chose a tree from the Christmas tree lot, where it was strapped to the roof of the car like an old vintage French steamer trunk. We drank powdered Hershey’s chocolate with mini marshmallows and candy canes. We listened to holiday playlists on our phones and decorated the Douglas fir with much-loved ornaments from when I was a child growing up in Laguna. We also added a few special ones from our girls’ magical fairytale Christmases in France. 

We enjoyed Christmas brunch poolside near the Pacific Ocean, with no chance of snow, only sunny skies. The coffee table breakfast bounty gave way to bagels and lox accompanied by local pastries from Moulin Bakery on Forest Avenue, a reminder of those French Christmases together when our much-adored girls were younger. 

Although it was a different time and place, in my mind, I could still hear old St. Nick exclaim, “Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.”  

Amy Capron is a member of Third Street Writers. 

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