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Kathy Bradley - Owning Christmas
Kathy Bradley
Kathy Bradley

AJ is 2 1/2. She and I spent about an hour the other day wandering around a mall in Atlanta. She strode purposefully — dodging shoppers and strollers and the choo choo train of which she was not at all fond — walked like she owned the place, exuding a confidence that made me envious. She paused regularly to identify colors and then raise her chubby little hand for a high-five. At one point she stopped, pointed her index finger at her eyes, which involuntarily closed, and said, “AJ eyes blue.” When I asked what color my eyes are, she replied. “Kap eyes green.”

It was (though I don’t have to tell it to anyone who has ever experienced it) the most fun I've had in a while. It's amazing what a cute toddler who just happens to share some of your own DNA can do to your mood, even when the tree is not yet decorated and the cards are not yet sent.

In addition to knowing all her colors, AJ knows all the letters of the alphabet. When she got tired of red and yellow and purple, she began calling out letters. “K...A...Y...,” she announced as we stood outside the jewelry store. “E...D...G...E...,” when we passed a clothing store of which I’d never heard. Outside GameStop, she encountered serifs for the first time. “G... what dat letter?...M...E...S... what dat letter? ...O...P.”

And every single time, the last letter barely out of her mouth, she turned to look up at me and ask, “What dat say, Kap?”

Tonight, with the tree finally decorated and the Christmas cards finally addressed and stamped, I walked outside to look at the sky. The moon, half brightly lit and half in dull shadow, had made its way to a spot directly overhead. Scattered in the eastern sky, a handful of stars flickered, four of them making a curved line like the blade of a scimitar.

I stared like AJ looking at the curve on the bottom of the “t.”

Humans began identifying patterns in the night sky centuries ago and from those patterns we created shapes. Bull and bear, goat and lion, ladles large and small. Images not tied to language or location, images not diminished by politics or viruses, images big enough to welcome the 2 1/2-year-old in all of us because when we stare into the darkness we want to see something we recognize and we want to know what it says.

In that sense, Christmas is a constellation — each shiny ornament, each woodsy wreath, each evocation of shepherds and magi, a pinpoint of light that we recognize as telling us something about ourselves. Each tired carol, each bedraggled bow, each hastily wrapped gift a flickering star connected to all the others in a shape that reflects our deepest desires, hears our questions, tells our stories and illuminates the world.

“What dat say, Kap?”

It says, dear AJ, that no matter how hard the year has been, how conflicted we are about the year to come, we can stride into Christmas like we own it. Because we do.

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