It’s Christmas morning. And since I woke up early (at noon), I have my girlfriend Laura’s ancestral home in Washington, DC all to myself. She and her parents, Alec and Jean, are all fast asleep, surely dreaming of high gravity beers and cute sweaters – and whatever else Santa might have brought for them!

Now, as I write this blog, I survey the load of presents on the floor in the living room. Quite a spread for four people. We’ve either been very nice, or exceptionally naughty this past year.

Two eves ago, on Christmas Eve Eve, I had a nightmare. I’ve had very few nightmares (that have awoken me in the night for me to remember them) so the occurrence was notable. In the dream, I was at my father’s house when I heard a rapid series of gunshots from the neighbor’s house. I ran to a window, where I saw a hand holding a gun shooting out of the neighbor house. When the hand retracted, I dashed to the upstairs level to get a better look, and through a higher window that faced said neighbor house, I happened to see a young woman duct taped to a chair in one of their upstairs rooms.

Well, by now I had deduced something was amiss. So I called the police as my family and I transferred ourselves to safety – which was a glass-walled store across the street. I have dream-trouble dialing the number (“Does anyone know the number for the Police that’s not 911?” “Why would you call that?” “Good point!” So I dial 611. Oops! Darn it. Try again. 411. Damn these infernal touch screen cell phones! Etc.)

Eventually I get the right number and explain the situation to the authorities. They ask if I think they should put the Air Force on standby. I thought they should. While this is going on, my mother arrives to have words with my brother Luke. Over my phone conversation, I overhear the story that our neighbors (the gun-toting, hostage-taking ones) apparently stole something from our house long ago. My brother Luke, as it turns out, had only very recently avenged our family honor by stealing something of theirs in return. My mother was furious, which was justifiable under the circumstances.

After my phone call I search our safe house for possible hiding spaces and then return to the windowed street-level where everyone else has collected. We’re waiting for the authorities to arrive, and one medic is amongst us. I suppose she was waiting for the blood to be spilt.

We’re interrupted by the intrusion of a great big man wielding a gun. He’s come from across the street to inquire after a young man he’s aware has stolen something from him. He finds Luke immediately. As I gripped a nearby stool and judged the effectiveness of throwing it at the gunman, I took note that his pistol is .22 caliber – an almost laughably small bore for a menacing gunman. If Luke is shot, I thought, he might have a good chance at surviving it.

Also, I know that Luke is black belt martial artist. If I could hurl a chair at the gunman and distract him only for a moment, it might likely be all Luke would need to incapacitate him.

But then Luke was shot. The gunman said a few words over him before shooting him again, then turned to leave. I relaxed my hand on the stool. If I engaged him now, he’d surely kill me. He’s probably too big for me to wrestle the gun away. If we let him leave, then our medic – who I’ve now noticed has vanished – might still be able to save him.

Once the gunman was gone, I scoured the safe house for the medic. Luke was still living, but he might not have long. The tension was so nerve-racking that it woke me up at this point.

I’m safe. Perfectly safe – on the floor of Laura’s bedroom, where her family has constructed me a really comfortable bed out of a mound of blankets. On previous visits I stayed in the guest room, but Alec and Jean often play host to homeless cats as they await adoption into kitty foster homes, and during this particular visit my old room is inhabited by two enormous felines – Tiger and Bo. But I am greatly relieved that no one was shot. It was all a dream.

I wake up Laura and make her say nice things to me before returning to sleep.

On Christmas Eve Laura and I see the Hobbit. It’s much better than I had anticipated. I still have the Dwarf theme stuck in my head. Alec and Jean opted to skip it so they could prepare a great feast of crab cakes and macaroni. When we returned from the film, we discover that one of the ingredients for the crab cakes – horseradish mustard – has been overlooked. With all the willingness to undertake an adventure that only a Tolkien story can impart, Laura and I boldly volunteer for the task: to traverse the cold and misty forests of northern Virginia, seek out the legendary horseradish mustard, and return with it to complete the mythic and traditionally significant Christmas Eve feast.

So we drive to a supermarket called “Giant,” which is exceedingly apropos. It closed at eight, however, and it’s past nine now. Undaunted, we journey onward to a Safeway. It’s also closed. Next we encounter a CVS Pharmacy which is still open! But they only have regular mustard, and Grey Poupon. This will not suffice. So once more to the black roads we go! Huzzah! It’s another Giant store! …Also closed. At this point Laura and I are forced to beseech the internet gods for access to a magical map known as, “the Google.”

With it in hand, we decipher its hidden moon runes for the secret location of a store they call the Mart of Wal, which, it is said, never sleeps. Indeed, the great Mart of Wal holds every condiment known to the race of Man, so they say, and sells every worldly item you could possibly want at a price you won’t possibly believe….

Well, we did so seek out the Mart of Wal, and after some tribulation getting lost amidst a series of roads all named after the same suburban location, we came to it at last. And hark! There are even cars in the lot! What joy! Rapture unexampled! It is verily a Christmas Eve miracle!

…But why are there carts pushed in front of both entrances, barring all entry and exit? And where is everyone? Alas. The legends were untrue. The great Mart of Wal… was closed.

In our ensuing despair, we stop at a Seven Eleven. It’s very busy. Lots of people are out shopping on Christmas Eve. But not for horseradish mustard. They certainly don’t carry that.

We return, empty handed and heavy hearted. The crab cakes are made – sans horseradish mustard. And they are, actually, fantastic despite it. So’s the macaroni.

After dinner, we found the only Christmas service our late-skewed schedule could accommodate: midnight mass at Holy Spirit Catholic Church.

That took me back. There was an adult choir with some pretty voices, the enchanting fumes of burning frankincense, and a priest who had the ecclesiastical balls to quote “The Lord of the Rings” during his homily to draw a parallel to the story of Jesus’ birth.

Laura’s family is not Catholic, and I only am because of my out-spoken atheist non-beliefs, and because I was confirmed. So we were all collectively out of our element, and spent a lot of time negotiating the four separate printed documents they gave us to help keep track of what was going on, and what to say and/or sing. There was a hymnal, a missal, a printed handout with more music and words, and a handy “the Parts of Mass” card that very Protestantly (in my opinion) listed all the various prayers I was supposed to memorize as a child, such as the Nicene Creed. With the prayers written out ­– why! – just about anyone could blend in! To think!

Despite all the paperwork, there were still parts of the mass that didn’t appear to be accounted for on any of the documents. Oh well. It was fun to get to practice singing a bit. And we all got our allotted portion of grace for the holidays.

Afterward, we took a drive around to look at Christmas lights on the way back. There’s some really nice work being done in the DC metropolitan area in that regard.

And now it’s that special morning. Well… early afternoon, in our case. Getting to be mid-afternoon. And I should quit writing and start ripping open some presents very shortly.

I was lucky enough to be visited by my nuclear family – if only in the form a Christmas Eve Eve nightmare. I know that’s better than some get, when their corporeal families turn into living nightmares. And I have been treated to some truly lovely Yuletide hospitality from the McBride clan. I have a great deal to be thankful for, and that makes this holiday a very special one for me.

Merry Christmas.