When I was really little I would spend Chrismas Eve writhing in a sleepless ball of excitement wondering which, if any, of the desired stuffed animals I would find under our tree. Regardless of what my parents ended up extracting from the secret gift coset (often mostly clothes and books) nothing could parallel that night of untapped, stuffed-toy potential. As I got older I started to feel guilty about my mindless consumerism, and would add things like “world peace” to my Chrismas list. A nice touch, but lets face it- I was still making a list. World Peace was never meant to be sandwiched between “sculpey” and “walking stilts”.
Sometimes my family did the Church thing which, although agonizingly dull, provided a nice contrast to the orgy of shredded paper it usually preceded. Something about Christmas always made a little quiet reflection seem like a good idea, but we were always what you’d call seasonally religious, preferring a long day skiing to any gathering indoors for our spiritual fix.
As years passed and my passion for accumulating random gifts began to fade, this pagan(ish) tradition did just the opposite, becoming more and more of our annual focus. A mellow day spent outside with my family came to mean Christmas more than the pendulum swings of religious boredom and materialistic euphoria; eventually fresh snow became the sole gift on my list.
Then came this year, my first Christmas without my family. It was weird enough not to see them, and between nonstop shifts at work and the complete lack of snow, it was a bit of a struggle to create any kind of festive feeling. My man is the kind of person who will bake three batches of Christmas cookies and then build a tree out of dead sticks – but despite his best efforts and all the Linus and Lucy we could handle, Christmas just wasn’t coming.
So we went back to our mutually pagan roots on Christmas Eve and dreamed up a climbing and skiing adventure big enough to bring us both some holiday spirit. At this point I’ve read enough Alpinist literature to know exactly how I don’t want to relate my adventures, and anyway I’m far too much of a padawan to write about what’s harrowing or what’s mind blowing. You know those things for yourself and I know them for myself. All I can really tell you is that I am beginning my mountain education in earnest, and I’m learning beyond bike racing what it means to get really, really worked. I’m learning how it feels to go to the places people don’t go, how to hold it together once you get there and of course, the ever-valuable art of peeing with a harness and crampons on.
Also- fresh snow still might still be first, but now I can add “sticky ice” and “a rappel in the dark, with skis” to my list. To me those two items, while still somewhat unrelated, look a little better alongside world peace. So here’s to an always-improving list, the gift of knowledge, and creating holidays with people you love. It’s shaping up to be a nice winter.