After last year's cancellation, "The Nutcracker" is back. In 2016, my daughter Zoe, granddaughter Camille and I attended a performance of the ballet, and it became our special holiday tradition.
Then last year such live performances were but a memory and a hope for the future. This year I was reticent about going: We would have to wear masks, and Camille, 9, would have to be tested for COVID. But Zoe, who is normally quite virus-hesitant, was all for it so I thought, sure, maybe it is time to get out.
We went on opening night. The conductor stood tall and proud, beaming, in the orchestra pit, obviously thrilled beyond words to be back in action. Even Camille grasped the import of the evening and grabbed her mom's arm with a thrill at the opening notes.
The dancing -- the whole performance -- was magical. Was this because it was wonderful to be enjoying a live performance again or was it the choreography and charm of this particular production? Perhaps both.
With seven and a half decades behind me, I have experienced many types of Christmases.
We spent Christmas 1968 in Wichita Falls, Texas, where my husband was in U.S. Air Force secondary training, and it was our first Christmas away from our families. We went to midnight Mass, and I still recall the priest's sermon as he railed that there was no peace on earth as long as the Vietnam War raged.
We were already feeling gloomy about our personal future, and we admired him for recognizing the upheaval in the world rather than automatically celebrating "peace on earth, goodwill to man."
And the next day was fun. I cooked my first turkey and we invited some of Jim's friends from the base, who were quite appreciative of the homecooked meal and cigars and wine our families had sent from California.
When we lived in Jeddah, from 1975-78, Santa came to a company party on a water tank pulled by a donkey. In Bangkok in the late '80s, he arrived on an elephant. But mostly we were in the States, and Santa came to our house Christmas Eve, presumably on a sleigh.
We would hear jingle bells in the distance and the children would rush upstairs and listen excitedly to the sounds of St. Nick clomping through the living room, saying hello to Mom and Dad as he quickly filled the stockings and placed toys by the tree.
With the children grown, the holidays turned into wonderful reunions as they "came home for Christmas." One year my son's flight from where he lived in Germany was canceled due to weather so my husband and I ended up eating our Christmas Day dinner at an Indian restaurant in downtown Walnut Creek -- the only other customers were two Jewish couples discussing their trip to European synagogues.
But that, too, was a Merry Christmas because we were happily anticipating the next-day arrival of my son as well as my daughter's family after their celebration with the in-laws in SoCal.
My loneliest Christmas Day was 2013, when my husband was dying of cancer and too sick for visitors or celebration. But the severity of his illness was not yet diagnosed, so it was a Christmas of hope after a wonderful Thanksgiving for extended family and I don't remember it being unhappy; it is only sad in retrospect.
Last year's COVID Christmas is also a contender for the loneliest, although I did go to my daughter's yard for a brief outside present exchange. But I'm not complaining. I've enjoyed many holidays that could have inspired Norman Rockwell. Why, some years we actually gathered around the piano to sing carols.
This year my daughter is planning a family party for 12, including four children, on Christmas Day. God willing and the creek (and COVID) don't rise, that is where I will be.
But no matter how the holiday unfolds, somehow it is always special for me, perhaps because the enchantment of the season was instilled in me as a child.
In conclusion, and I know I am jumping from Tchaikovsky to Dickens, I would like to say: "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"
Editor's note: Dolores Fox Ciardelli is Tri-Valley Life editor for the Pleasanton Weekly. Her column, "Valley Views," appears on the second and fourth Fridays of each month.