Winter is a time of reflection, as we move in for the long, cold nights and stay warm as possible, awaiting the new year, the new life to begin. The winter solstice, the official “longest night,” is full of magic and awe. Slowly the days begin to get longer, even as the nights get colder and the snow gets heavier. At this time, the time where winter begins, we honor this period of hibernation, of waiting. While I don’t consider myself especially religious, I do think that marking the end of year in some way is important. The New Year is always full of openness, possibility, and wonder. Just like children. It’s no accident that so many religious traditions have some important rituals at this time of the year. Births, miracles, joy — the energy of the time is special, and those rituals, both personal and social, tell us something about who we are.
Before the kids came, my wife and I usually celebrated the new year in a favorite Chinese restaurant, or on occasion celebrated with take-out at my brother- and sister-in-law’s place. Since our children were born, we’ve been more homebody oriented, but we also now give special thanks to our neighbors every holiday, by making cookies or little breads. The girls usually help to make them.
When my youngest was born, I made sure that my oldest would feel special, and I often take her on daddy-daughter dates into the big city. And we have started our own special end-of year ritual. On or on or very close to New Year’s Eve, we go into the city to the Imax theater and catch whatever is playing there. Two years ago it was Young Black Stallion, which she as a horse fanatic loved (what is it with females and horses? another blog for that, I suppose!). Last year, it was The Polar Express, not only in IMAX but also in 3D. It was an amazing spectacle, though her small face had a hard time keeping the extra-large 3D glasses on. We also go to a nearby noodle shop for some dumplings and soup. We have used both our car and mass transit, but with the transit strike going on now this ritual is in jeopardy. It will not be easy to keep this going.
I wanted to tell you this funny story about our experience of The Polar Express. As you might know, the same team that brought us this film — Tom Hanks, Robert Zemeckis — were responsible for Forrest Gump, the 2-hour version of that dopey Billy Joel song that goes through American postwar history for a generation that’s too impatient to read books. And of course the line everyone knows from Gump is “life is like a box of choc -o-lates.” The film also features that opening credit sequence with the feather floating in the air and landing in Gump’s lap. I’ve tended to mock the film here and there, like when my wife and I were watching Cast Away, yet another Zemeckis/Hanks collaboration, I remember watching Hanks, after he finds his way off the island, tell his old friend that “you never know what the tide will bring” — and of course at that moment, I turned to my Graceful One and said, in my best Gump voice, “the tide is like a box of choc-o-lates!” And then, there I was, in the Imax, and there’s this scene in the film where a ticket is blown away in the wind and goes on an adventure, one that looks admittedly very cool in IMAX and in 3D, but as I saw this yellow ticket floating about in the wind, I said aloud in the theater, “the Polar Express is like a bunch of choc-ah-lates!” There were very few people in the theater, for it was the first show on New Year’s Eve, so I had no idea if anyone heard me. Until later on that day, at dinner, when my oldest repeated my phrase — and my Gump intonation! — at the dinner table. I hope that others in the theater were able to laugh then as I did when I heard my daughter do a perfect imitation of a character she’s never seen. I look forward to this year ending, frankly. It’s been a rough one, with three of our parents in the hospital, one for an extended period of time, but all recovering well and hopefully well on the mend next year. But this year also saw my oldest start school full-time, where she loves her kindergarten teacher, and my youngest too goes to nursery school in the afternoons. So there has been I suppose a typical mixture of good and bad. I remember being a kid and struggling to stay awake to midnight, and of course our children will not be awake for the new year to start, but we are planning a special meal for the winter solstice, and of course the massive unwrapping of presents begins soon. And of course, the poems. I’ve written one to each child every Christmas, and read them on that day. For us at midnight, there was Dick Clark. But this year, we have canceled our cable service, so unless we have a decent antenna on our set, we’ll be marking the new year with the radio, a rather odd thing to do. I just hope that 2006 gets better. It felt like a very rough one. Good thing the kids help us stay focused on what matters.