With those words, my favorite wee Christmas tale begins. At least once every December, and maybe more than that, I’ve curled up on my couch with a steaming mug of hot chocolate and O. Henry’s enchanting narrative about Jim and Della and their gifts, bought with sacrifices born of love. A verbal sugarplum of wisdom and foolishness.
It’s at this time of year that I gorge myself, not on cookies or candy or even hot chocolate (okay, hot chocolate—also sometimes pasteurized processed cheese food), but on innocence, novelty and romance. I devour Laura Ingalls Wilder’s description of Christmas morning the year Pa and Mr. Edwards crossed the raging creek to fetch gifts from town. The tin cups and sticks of candy and small white and brown sugar cakes are just behind my eyes and on the tip of my tongue. "The Little Match Girl” and “The Night Before Christmas,” among other stories, come out to play.
The Beach Boys and Charley Pride vie for playing time and I see Santa flying through the night sky over the California hills. Sheryl Crow's “There Is a Star That Shines Tonight” starts and I hear the delay of the satellite phone in a great friend’s surprise Christmas Eve call from a ship halfway around the globe. Alan Jackson sings “Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas” and (to my non-drinking father’s perpetual dismay) I’m instantly standing at the counter of my college townhouse as my Japanese roommate teaches the Bulgarian, the Canadian and me how to roll sushi.
I soak in as much sappy movie ambience as the season will allow. Lifetime. Ion. Hallmark. I start with White Christmas and move on through every second string love story I can find. Although more than one person has said that I am the least romantic person they know, it’s not true. With a life that simply doesn’t look much like the movies, I've learned to keep the stories and the sparkles tucked away in my head and heart to keep me company. This is the time to stock up.
Which brings us back to where we started. It’s not an extravagant story. It’s simple. Elegant. A watch chain and jeweled combs. No watch. No hair. The most romantic of all the Christmas trifles.