MY FAVORITE SORT of presents are the ones that show up for no reason, other than that “I was thinking of you.” I doubt that there any more enchanting words in the English language, besides “Don’t worry darling, I’m here to help,” “More champagne?” and “First class is right this way.”
Christmas, hallowed, is much more about the experience of making a heartfelt connection with other people than it is about what one receives. I spend my holidays in New York, and depending on the year, some of my family members get together and celebrate. They do give thoughtful and intriguing gifts (one year, not long ago, I received half a dozen kinds of salt, and imagined myself a trader of a bygone age; from my diary that year –– “one historian’s observation of the route at its height: Spain did no more than dream of this”), and it’s all a gift: love, time, this.
This year, I did give in and post that all I want for Christmas is to go to Le Bernardin. By the time I went to bed, an alert reader let me know it was sorted, though we’re on the waiting list.
At my old place in Chinatown, we began the tradition of Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon and chocolate cake on Christmas Eve, because the kitchen was so small that once the four of us squeezed around the table, it was no longer possible to open the oven or the refrigerator. After dinner, we go to John Street Church for the candlelight service; I think it’ll be the 244th this year.
Last year I made Parker House rolls, which, once eaten, erase all memory of their laborious rise. I can’t remember too much that was on the table, just that we drank Scotch and went to a play.
Christmas Day is not about too much fanfare at my place, because I like a lazy brunch and then not too much else to do. I do have a book of Diana Athill’s short stories that I can’t wait to begin.
The tree, though, is an indulgence. Last year was the first year I’ve had one in New York, and accordingly, I did an Egyptian theme in honor of the Arab Spring and the real family behind Downton Abbey, who funded the expedition that unearthed King Tut. Another year, at a friend’s place, I chose a Russian fairytale to illuminate, complete with skulls like those the heroine, Vasilisa the Beautiful, follows to find her way out of the forest, and home. This year, the tree is supposed to be simple, and I chose a tall and slender one. Of course, once here, it turned out to be more than eight feet tall and awfully wide. The theme is fertile, lush, unexpected abundance, which will go nicely with the little silver bird’s nests I found to clip onto a few of the branches.
I don’t think too much about what’s under the tree because I am a more or less a minimalist with opulent taste, and don’t care to be encumbered by endless things most of the time (I’m not too sentimental and have been known to give admirers the rings off my fingers). I found my sister a painting of Eli Cash from The Royal Tenenbaums and I gave it to her tonight, a few weeks early.
I was thinking of you.