In the Langelot family, devotion to happiness is deep-seated. Right when Rose and Henry met, they were amazed by the range of possibilities that were offered to them, the chance to light up with their love all the kinds of happiness that would appear every day. Over the years, ceremonies had come along with the arrival of children to anchor their customs. On specific occasions, there might be a dance of joy in the kitchen to end a gloomy day along with a glass of sunny wine. Or there could be a dance of umbrellas, when, wearing tall boots, the family banished the bad weather by jumping into puddles to “surprise the clouds” as Elias, the youngest of this joyful group, would say. The two older sisters, Célia and Méline, were as charming and cheerful as he was mischievous. The family portrait would not be complete without adding a pair of alley cats rescued from certain death, a dog trained to watch over this territory of fruitful flights of fancy with all his canine benevolence, a few chickens, a good dozen goldfish, and a few passing mice. The house was an ark.
On Christmas Eve, this devotion to happiness found its full expression. In fact, starting December 1st, the house itself seemed unable to wait. The shelves were decorated with candles that, each night, we lit at the same time as the fire in the fireplace. That was the signal… next, the garlands, the little objects made by the children, the colors, the drawings, all came out of their cardboard box. The house smelled like cinnamon and orange peel, gingerbread and nutmeg — such blissful fragrances.
Traditionally, on December 15th, the family went with much ceremony to a garden center. It was a mission of the utmost importance: choosing a Christmas tree. THE Christmas tree... The idea of chopping a tree, of cutting off a life, even plant life, revolted them. They needed roots.
The lucky tree chosen unanimously won the right to reign over the living room near the fireplace after a meticulous and final examination.
That night, for her birthday, Rose took down the “happiness box” from the mantel. The idea was quite simple. Each member of the family received a gift of a set of multicolored ribbons and a few white ones. On the multicolor ribbons was written the “happiness of the day.” A word, a thought, an encounter, a feeling — something beautiful or good that marked that particular day. On the white ribbons? Nothing was written. This meant that it was something too private to be revealed. But it still existed and each one was free to keep a sign of it. All these ribbons had a destination. In the branches of the newly-arrived Christmas tree, each family member carefully tied these little ribbons of joy. Bit by bit, in a ceremony that was as joyful as it was terribly serious, the tree became loaded with all these happy messages and became for a time an allegorical figure of all the joys of the Langelot family. Sometimes, passing by a particular date, a less joyful memory popped up. Rose then threw a handful of salt into the fire. As it crackled like fireworks, the grains of salt burst the last quivers of sadness.
It was a wonderful evening. The family legend was written on these colorful ribbons and the children, more than at any other moment, learned about sharing, joy, and the sweetness of being together. Rose smiled and said this was the best birthday gift she could have. As for Henry, he called it a shield against all the world’s worries. They had a fortress of love. Most of all, they believed in it...all of them did. And this wonderful faith in their deserved happiness and the actions they surrounded it with sheltered them from the rest of the world. Looking at that tree, at that time of the year, was the surest cure for melancholy.
Christmas was the climax of all of this. The tree of happiness presided on Christmas Eve. Satiated and happy, they sometimes dozed by the fireplace while waiting for the ritual of opening the gifts (the youngest ones first!) and then breakfast, which followed. And that whole day was then devoted to discovering the marvels added to those that were already present in the house. Never any gifts to “have,” but gifts to “be.” The house purred even more than the cats. And in the eyes of Rose and Henry, there shone the pride and boldness of those who make choices in life and stick to them. The time had come to summon older joys. Elias never tired of hearing the story of the day when his parents had announced his upcoming birth to his sisters. Célia and Méline cooed with pleasure when telling of the arrival of the kittens, or of saving a fledgling who was coaxed into taking flight. The parents told of surprise visits that had delighted them. Miraculous harvests, swing sets, water, sweltering summertimes.... The family cultivated life. And life paid them back in kind.
Then January 1st came. Henry had worked hard starting that morning to dig a comfortable hole. A plot of the vast acreage had become a pine forest. The tree of happiness was then transported in great splendor and with the help of a wheelbarrow to its new home, with ribbons still tied in its branches. The children helped to settle it into its hole and then filled up the space around it so that it would be comfortable. And, almost regretfully, while stroking the tips of its branches one last time in a respectful farewell, they went back to sit around the big kitchen table in a whirlwind of excitement. Rose was waiting for them in an aroma of hot chocolate and honey. In the middle of the table, along with the hoped-for hot chocolate, there were piles of white and multicolored ribbons for each of them and the New Year's celebration could start. Outside, in the spring, they would find twigs woven with colored ribbons in the birds’ nests. Happiness, when it takes root, adds lasting color.
Translated by Kate Deimling