Christmas morning, my father’s voice is deep and resounding but he is not the one who wakes us.
We sleep, huddled and crowded, too close for California nights, even in winter, but it’s the only way to make it feel like Christmas. It was 75 degrees last night, but we had hot chocolate all the same; it’s tradition. The small bedroom has only ever gotten smaller with each addition to the family, and it cannot accommodate three: clothes scatter the floor because putting them in the hamper is just too hard, books and papers from the semester not being quite over are merely litter, and every drawer or container is in some state of having been opened, or not having yet been closed. But the three of us would not have it any other way. Who would we be, if we were not us?
Rachel’s deep breathing makes it impossible to sleep until staying up any longer is simply not an option. Time ticks, and I use my iPod to listen to Nat “King” Cole—the voice of Christmas—to keep me thinking of how it feels to be back home with these, my favorite people, for just a moment of the year. Then, as Caitlin, who sleeps beside me in the bed, turns over one last time, I finally fall asleep with the knowledge that this will be over too soon: the mess, the hot blankets, the cramming of three bodies into two beds, and what it feels like to be here again.
The white door sticks as it’s opened: like paint not given time enough to dry, though it’s been dried since we repainted the room years ago. It wakes me up, because my music has stopped, and I wonder what time it is. It is still dark—too dark to gauge time by. My mother’s voice comes through the curtains covering Caitlin’s bed—the bed I share—and she tells us what time it is. Softly. On Christmas morning, her voice is soft. And without seeing her, I can imagine her dark, straight, peppering hair and the cherry-brown eyes she gave me, and the freckles she earned from a childhood out in the sun.
It takes a moment for Rachel’s slow, deep breathing to puncture as she wakes. The lack of steady breathing wakes Caitlin, and my heart flutters—a flutter I’ve only ever felt Christmas morning. Suddenly, we are cold, and we drag our eclectic array of blankets out of bed with us: blankets have always defined us. Rachel’s is one-side floral, other side blue fabric covered with punctuation marks, something you could only be given for free; Caitlin’s is a soft brown blanket, stolen from its intended use in the living room; mine is a worn lilac and off-white down, which has lost everything useful apart from its sentiment of familiarity. We creep as silently as we can—reverently—to our parents’ room. This we have always done—a sacred tradition—until we are called from their bedroom to the front room.
My father is in the living room, putting on his favorite Christmas music: the Roche’s “We Three Kings” CD, which we know by heart, and coincidentally is a singing group of three sisters. We’re warm again, but shivering from excitement. Then his voice comes, and it echoes in our hearts—the only sound that could or ever will. “Alright now,” he says. And we slowly make our way from our parents’ back bedroom to the front room. Before we round the corner, with ‘Star of Wonder’ playing in the background, we can smell the pine tree—another sacred and unbreakable tradition—and it smells just how Christmas ought to smell, and its scent is clean, and fills every piece of us. I push Rachel and Caitlin ahead of me toward the living room because I am oldest, and this is the way I have always done it. I imagine the living room, adorned for Christmas with two-decades-worth of accumulated decorations, enough for ten rooms, but only put to use in one; the curse of a small home.
Wrapped in our blankets, my father finally sees us round the corner and he doesn’t smile, he doesn’t speak again until later. But we wait for when he will. And as I take my place in our family circle—we begin our Christmas tradition. And I think, looking at my family, that perhaps a moment, no matter its end, can be enough.