Driving through North Asheville, it’s easy to tell which homes have children in residence and which don’t. Some yards are still pristine, snow covering the grass as perfectly as if they had been airbrushed. Others are pocked with footprints, mud and grass showing through, toppled snowmen looking longingly at their carrot noses tossed to the side by a naughty tyke.
Mine is one of the latter, and on Christmas Eve morning, while nearby houses sleep, mine is alive with noise and joy. Bob Dylan sings “Must be Santa” while little ones munch on toast with homemade pear butter, waiting on peppermint tea to be done. Small, sweet voices rise over Dylan’s scratchy one, and even his namesake, eighteen this year, seems caught up in the excitement. Normally one to grunt in response to questions, the King of Aloof, he laughs with his siblings and teases them about what a long day this will be.
Plans for the holiday are simple: no fancy parties, no trudging from home to home to visit with people we’d just as soon not see. Today will be baking cookies, wrapping the last of the gifts, all-day holiday movie marathons and lots and lots of “Is it time for Santa yet?” There is no room in our holiday for religion, only a passing nod to the changing seasons and a smile, knowing that the days are getting longer and the sun will soon come back. Our faith is in each other, in knowing that we will be together in the morning, in the scent of Sebastian’s wassail on the stove and the taste of chocolate chips melting on our tongues. Our faith is in knowing that Christmas is different for every heart, yet the same for every one: I will celebrate with my Baptist friends, my Pagan ones, the atheists, and none of those labels matter. We are, to each other, family, differences overshadowed by common bonds: love, humor, a sense of knowing we have been through this before and will survive it again.
Asheville is a family like mine, made up of people belonging simply because they don’t belong anywhere else; people who are here because they want to be, not simply because they must be. Some have been here for generations, others wandered through just now and decided to stay. But regardless of how or why or how long, everyone is welcome, as long as you welcome someone else.
Whether you are just up the road or halfway across the world, I wish you a very Merry Christmas, and may every day hold for you the same sense of joy and of belonging that this day does.