A Christmas Story (In January)

I've been accused recently of being out of season. Why? I served mulled wine at our book club meeting last night. Mulled wine is clearly on the pre-Christmas side of the calendar in this neck of the woods. However, in Germany, the drink made at Feuerazngenbowle (meaning literally 'fire-tongs punch') parties is a type of mulled wine where a rum-soaked sugar cone is set on fire to drip into the wine punch.

And although these parties happen before Christmas, they also typically happen in January when the weather is cold and you feel like having your friends around to sip a hot warming drink and watch a grown man set fire to a sugar cone. It's a great tradition (our friends who threw these parties have sadly left London).

So perhaps that's why I thought to serve mulled wine in January. Along the same lines I'm wondering if it's too late to tell a Christmas story.

But in light of last week's post about skipping the news, I thought that maybe the time was right. Sometimes there are good stories –and parents who do nice things. And who cares if it's not Christmas anymore? I'm so busy right now that I have to just be thankful that I get any ideas for blogs at all!

When I arrived home in New York this year for Christmas, my parents had moved all the furniture around for various reasons, which of course unnerved me to no end (heaven knows how I'll react when they eventually sell the family home and move South in pursuit of warmer weather and cheaper taxes, as they are threatening).

Due to the fact that all the furniture had been shuffled around, coupled with my 24-hour stay-awake-a-thon on Christmas Eve – a day that was populated with a 5 a.m. wake-up, a seven-hour flight, two Christmas parties, a Christmas pageant and a midnight Christmas Eve service – I didn't really notice that the piano was gone.

When I was young I wanted to play the piano more than anything. I had a little toy piano with a minuscule keyboard that I used to play the easy songs taught by my music class teacher. I'm not sure it even had an octave on it. I was only five years old, but was completely obsessed.

But we didn't have a piano. I have no idea what our family's financial situation was at the time (I've never asked), but I assume that plunking down thousands of dollars for a piano was either not an option or not an option at that particular moment. Luckily a family at our church had a spare piano that no one was using, so they lent it to us. They never wanted it back, so it became ours (or mine, I guess) and has been sitting at my parents' house collecting dust while I live my life overseas.

When I finally noticed it was gone this trip home, we had just sat down the four of us to do our 'family Christmas' after the drive back from Grandma's. The tree was sitting it its former resting place so really it couldn't have been more obvious. When I asked where it was, my parents told me "I'd see" what had happened to it.

My parents had decided the piano could be put to better us than sitting there with no one to play it, so they contacted my piano teacher (also a close family friend) and found out if she had any students or potential students who needed a piano. Turns out she did, so the piano made its way into the little girl's hands. My parents had two terms – they wanted a picture of her with the piano to show me and an invitation to her first recital.

When I saw the picture I burst into tears. My Mom said, "Are you crying because we gave your piano away?" (Apparently when she told my brother the plan he assessed, "Well, it could go either way…")

What kind of person do they think I am?

No, I wasn't crying because I was now lacking a piano (that I wasn't even using) but because I was so moved by their gesture and in fact remember very clearly how badly I had wanted to take piano lessons. I was barely six when it arrived and I still remember that day and the excited happiness I felt. And to know that someone else could experience that same feeling (coupled with very bad jet lag and all the general emotional stuff that comes along with Christmas with the family), was more than enough to send me to that teary place and over the edge to actual real crying.

I ended up studying piano for 12 years after the borrowed piano arrived. And I continued to love it. I will study again at some point, but as I talked about in my post on creativity, I do think there's a time for everything and now is not the time for it (we also haven't found a space for a piano or even a keyboard in the flat yet).

Not to brag too much about my parents – but I do think what they did is pretty cool. I only wish I had thought of it.


  1. Your story made me misty. What a fabulous tradition to start, passing an old piano down from one little girl who can't afford her own, to another. Love it!

    Also, on the mulled wine thing - so what?! One year I decided to have a Christmas-themed party in August, just because the calendar's pretty bare then, and everybody loves that holiday. People were asked to wear red or green, holiday cookies were served, and Xmas music was played. Turned out to be a lot of fun, without the usual stress of gifts or having to get to all the family "events."

  2. I really like the idea of having a Christmas party in the summertime -- you're right, everyone is usually so stressed around the actual holidays that it's harder to enjoy the parties. Also, sometimes in Englad it's cold enough in the summer to feel like Christmas... I might actually prefer to be inside drinking mulled wine rather than standing outside in the cold at a barbeque wearing a dress, pretending I'm not absolutely freezing!


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