Sixteen Christmases

On December 25 at 11:56 p.m., I realize that it’s our last Christmas in this house.

On December 25 at 11:56 p.m., I realize that it’s our last Christmas in this house.

I’m looking at my watch and thinking about how fast the holidays go—how repetition speeds time up—and it hits me that one year from now, in what will inevitably feel like less than that, my family won’t be celebrating Christmas here in this room.

My house (which has always felt natural to say, except maybe until now) was built over 100 years ago, at the end of the nineteenth century. I’ve never really thought about how there’s been something sturdy beyond its walls—in knowing how long this house has stood here, imagining everything it’s seen.

Tonight, my mom tells me that only three other families had lived in this house before we moved in. Four families, including us: It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it suddenly becomes so when I try to conjure up the mothers and grandfathers who’ve walked through these rooms, the children that might—or might not—have raced downstairs like my sister and I used to on Christmas Eve.

I’ve always said I’m not particularly attached to this place, but I’m starting to think more about how an empty space became something my family grew into, something more than a combination of wood and brick.

Sixteen years later, we’ve grown out of it. A year from now, our house will watch another recycling: What’s forgotten under a new coat of paint?

Does all this disappear: tables (that wooden one in the kitchen, the one I used to draw on with crayon), chairs (that stool with the uneven legs), bookshelves (with my mom’s favorite cookbooks, outside the kitchen), years?

It’s December 26 now, but in the living room our Christmas tree still glows, under lamps once lit by gas, beams and plaster put up over a century ago. “Don’t you ever wonder who was sitting in this same room, back in 1896?” my mom asks.

Some things, I’ll insist, don’t just vanish.