When carolers sing of Christmas, of idealized images of happy families gathered around a warm hearth, they are not singing about our hearth. For my family, Christmas over the past two decades has meant sitting on the couch in sweatshirts or huddled under blankets, wondering why a constantly burning fire was doing nothing to raise the room temperature higher than that of a Norwegian ice storm. We joke about living in an igloo, but we know they must be warmer than this.
The house, in a Philadelphia exurb, was new when we moved in in the fall of 1996. And although it would be the first house our family didn’t all live in full-time—more home base than home, with both my older sister and me in college and my younger sister two years away from graduating high school—the family room was and is a central feature. Big enough for two