Invariably cast in the gentlest of whispers, my mother would respond, without hesitation, her answer always unwavering and steadfast, to my annual holiday query.
Each year, we indulged in a rather concise yuletide colloquy, comprised of my question, immediately followed by my mother’s answer. For certain, our dialogue was metaphorically tucked in the eaves of the attic, stored directly next to the old corrugated box indelibly marked in faded black magic marker - “Christmas Decorations - Fragile.”
As we unwrapped and excavated delicate ornaments from crumpled newspaper, with boldly touted headlines from the year prior, it was then that I would seize the moment and ask my annual question, “What would you like for Christmas, Mom?”
Quite predictably, my mother’s response, year after year, consisted of three words, the same exact three words.
Together, we would then proceed to decorate the tree, string the lights, assemble the manger with its collection of ceramic nativity figurines, carefully placing it in the bay window of our Cape Cod home, and begin to unfold the vintage poinsettia tablecloths and the red felt stockings, each embroidered with decorative holly, and each personalized, bearing an inscription in green lettering, with the first name of each family member.
My mother’s response was clearly tethered to more than the tinsel we haphazardly threw on the Christmas tree on that designated Sunday afternoon in early December; rather threads of our conversation were deeply woven into our family’s Christmas tapestry of tradition and song. In retrospect, the question I posed year after year had truly ripened at some unknown juncture into a festive, yet deeply meaningful rhetorical question.
Only years later would I grow to fully appreciate and truly comprehend the profundity of my mother’s response, experiencing my very epiphany, albeit not completely biblical, but rather blessed with an awareness that my mother’s three words, carefully chosen and softly spoken year after year, were wrapped in a swaddling blanket of hope and faith.
As a child, I was frustrated, and a bit confused by my mother’s response. It was by no means tactile; it could not be purchased or wrapped in a box, tied with a red bow and placed under the tree until Christmas morning.
Although, in hindsight, there was the year many decades ago when I saved my babysitting income, and purchased a Christmas gift for my mother, accompanied by a self-proclaimed conviction that I had finally and successfully stumbled upon the most appropriate and fitting gift that embodied my mother’s annual reply.
The gift: a snow globe, depicting a serene village winter scene, with a wind-up key beneath that played an instrumental version of "Silent Night." In hindsight, the snow globe was an illustrative microcosm of the three words repeated by my mother each year.
Today, half a century later, in a world often wrought in uncertainty and turmoil, my mother’s response continues to resonate with me, and certainly still bears significance and relevance for mankind.
As I hear the chiming of Christmas bells this holiday season, so, too, I hear the echo of my mother’s response to my inquiry, “What do you want for Christmas, Mom?”... “Peace on Earth.”