Alan Riquelmy: Light a Christmas candle |

Alan Riquelmy: Light a Christmas candle

Christmas has a specific scent.

A mix of pine and candles never meant to be lit. Add to that the deep aroma of decorations that only see the light of day one month each year.

Then there’s Pledge, the cleaning product that must be used before Christmas is allowed to enter our home. Books barely touched throughout the year are removed, the shelves dutifully wiped and the tomes returned before the elf on the shelf can make his appearance.

The tree, of course, is the crowning of my childhood Christmas. It’s fake, always is, but even still it provides a taste added to the olfactory, creating the December feeling.

The banisters can still bear my weight, but not this month. Pine garland weaves around the wood, a barrier to any child foolish enough to slide downstairs.

And why would he this time of year? The winking lights on the tree are enough to captivate anyone for 24 days. Presents slowly build underneath. My hands itch. The clock ticks very slowly.

Our church is much the same. An Advent wreath appears in time for the first Sunday of the month. Lighted candles mark the weeks until Christmas Day — one, two, three, four.

Then, on Christmas Eve, attendance at both the children’s service and midnight mass (don’t say that last word too loudly. It’s an Episcopal church) is required. The lights are dimmed, the congregation sings “Silent Night,” and it’s done. Everyone bursts into the cold night and their chilly cars. Christmas morning is just hours away.

Step away from that scene for a few years and you forget the smell of the incense. The memory gets muddied. Things fall apart.

Now skip ahead a few Christmases, past childhood and to the early adult. Something went wrong that forever changed the holiday.

What we called “the ditch” — a water conveyance system behind the childhood home — flooded. The city stepped in, bought a string of homes, including ours, and leveled them. The ditch was widened, and a walking path installed.

Santa made no appearance to stop this. This is not the makings of a good Hallmark movie.

Standing where the house once stood, it’s difficult to tell where the front yard ended and the home began. Half the backyard is now part of the ditch. The brittle grass gives no clues as to where a swing set once sat. There’s only empty space and wizened trees.

Flip ahead a few more years, and things come into focus.

Christmas, it seems, did not lay boxed in a walk-in closet in a house that no longer exists. Neither did the memories of a thousand other days — racing through night streets in a boiling summer, trespassing on the golf course on a silent night, the sprinklers making us flee.

It took time to understand that maybe there is a slice of Hallmark lurking a few weeks away. Christmas, it grins, isn’t in the bricks of some house.

I nod. I know, I know. Stop with the schmaltzy messages. I get it.

This Christmas I’ll set up the electric red tree, and place my own decorations on it. I’ll buy hot drinks, and share them with loved ones who know nothing of the smell of Pledge on a cold December day.

Then, when the time is right, I’ll get that candle that has never been lit.

And set it afire.

Contact Acting Editor Alan Riquelmy at or 530-477-4239.

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