This Christmas was, by all counts, a success. Snow was on the ground, I got my subscription to McSweeney’s Book Club renewed, and my grandparents hosted a fantastic midday meal that left us all bursting at the seams. But despite all of the togetherness that is usually associated with the holidays, Christmas is usually a very private day for me. My siblings and I always sleep in one room on Christmas Eve so that at five in the morning we can all stampede to the living room for gifts. But after a brunch and the mandatory It’s A Wonderful Life sobfest, I usually find myself quite free to do what I’d like. Often, I’ll turn off the lights in the living room, all except the ones wrapped around the Christmas tree, and I’ll lie beneath the huge pine and stare up at the pale ceiling speckled with colored crayon tips of luminosity. That scent! The illumination! Sometimes, I’ll think about the meaning of the holiday season, how thrilling buying the perfect present is, how quickly Hanukkah and Christmas meld in my mind (we basically have a nine day holiday in the Lazar home, with the grand finale being December 25th), and how beautiful our menorah is.

But what I think about most is how dead the world seems right now, when the holidays are all about birth and miracles and babies and fire and things that are alive. Last Christmas, I strapped myself in a marshmallow snowsuit (I’m talking the works: a down jacket, insufferable snow pants, and a hat resembling an exploding mop dog) to go explore my woodsy backyard. Making tracks in the snow, I felt my nose become an inflamed cherry tomato but I trudged on, fingering a waxy peppermint bark in one pocket and a spring of shiny gift ribbon bleeding through my fingers in the other. The world was silent there—not so much as a rustle or a crunch, a crack or a creak. I didn’t think about the birth of Jesus that day but I did wonder where all the life had gone. I felt as removed from the landscape as the frozen pool toys that were left out far past their season, deflated and defeated, glazed by the ice. I sat on a sad little raft, square in the middle of our snow covered field and tried to imagine myself in a white ocean or Huck Finn-ing it down some frothy river. I was saddened by how extraordinary lonely it was out there—the trees hushed by sheets of ice, the grass quieted by a quilt of snow and sticks—until something thumped my head and dispersed icy crumbs down my neck. My brother had thrown a snowball. And then another. And another. His face was alight with rosy playfulness, which brought life and color to the outdoors, and it dawned on me then that you can’t really go looking for signs of vivacity and miracles, you just have to wait for one to thwack you really, really hard in the back of your head when you least expect it.