Every December for the past twenty-five years or so I’ve watched what I think of as The Fantastic Five. They are:

A Charlie Brown Christmas
Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
A Christmas Story
It’s a Wonderful Life

As much as I love watching them, I love watching them more with my family hunkered around the tube munching popcorn and reciting the lines before the actors can get to them. But now both kids have moved out, leaving just Mary Jo and me.

We’ve already done something we’ve never done before. Every year we go over the river and through the woods to slay a Christmas tree at a U-cut lot. But this year—for the first time—we left only two sets of footprints between the rows.

Yes, we’ve entered empty-nest territory. Which has its charms. But I’m a sentimental sorta guy, and Christmas is already the most sentimental holiday. Fortunately, I have a huge catalog of Christmas memories going back to B.C. Which is to say, Before Children, so it’s not like this territory is completely uncharted.

There was the time Mary Jo and I had a lovely dinner at a beloved restaurant that no longer exists, and I remembered while waiting for the check that I had forgotten to set the brand-new Betamax to record Charlie Brown. We dashed home, but arrived too late to catch the opening. On the other hand, we did get to see the Peanuts gang dancing to Linus & Lucy.

Then there was the year when the temperature hit sixty and we showed up at my mom’s house in our best clothes and boxes wrapped so they could be opened without tearing the paper, the way they always are on TV. We still call that The Soap Opera Christmas.

A couple of years later, when Mary Jo was seven months pregnant with our daughter, we had the family over to our place and gave my mom a fireplace. You know, one of those metal ones that burns Sterno. She was stunned—as I still am when I recall that I carried that beast up and down two flights of stairs by myself.

So this year, it’s kind of like 1986 all over again. Except that part about Mary Jo being pregnant. And a bunch of other stuff. We do have a new flat-screen TV that we got four months ago and still isn’t hooked up to the DVD player. Maybe the specter of missing The Fantastic Five will finally goad me to do it. Or maybe I’ll get a blu-ray player and pony up for a Netflix subscription.

Whatever the method of delivery brings the movies into our home isn’t as important as the fact that Mary Jo has said she’ll watch them all with me like she did in the good ol’ days. Which is fantastic.

And, in some ways, more important than the very act of watching the movies alone.

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