Childhood Christmas Eves taught me much of what I love. The brightly lit tree in our living room was draped in tinsel, with a home-cut tin star at the top. Having no fireplace, we each hung a sock on the couch, which backed against the wall nearest the furnace pipe. I wondered what difference that made when Santa had to go from chimney to furnace, up the basement stairs, and around through the kitchen. But it worked; the socks were always full the next morning.
We sang favorite carols at the piano and read the ancient Christmas story, illustrated with paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our other annual reading was “King John’s Christmas” by A. A. Milne, which still brings me to tears.
Lasting lessons from those Christmas Eves: The joy of home and family. Lights, music, art, story. Tradition, ingenuity, wonder. Unconditional goodwill to all, even to bad King John.
Image: by Gerard David, 1480s. Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was one of the paintings in the Christmas book I grew up on.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.