How beautiful the hallway of the Paris Opera looked decorated in lights and hundreds of gold and green garlands, baubles, tinsel and shining Christmas trees. The girls of the corps de ballet had spent hours and hours getting it all perfect.
It was a joy to walk there, surrounded by lights, glitters, cheer and happiness.
It was less of a joy to watch other people have fun from a distance, hidden away in a cold, dark, wall, but Erik always did this every year. When he did he would imagine walking there while singing and dancing with every one else.
This year his fantasy had expanded a little. This time he didn’t imagine walking the hallways by himself. This time his arms were wrapped firmly around that wonderful angel who’d become the light of his life. In his dreams he was celebrating Christmas with Christine Daaé.
Now Erik did not know much about celebrating Christmas, having never had the chance to experience it. As a child his parents would lock him up the moment the tree was decorated. And later on? Well, what was there to celebrate?
No personally Erik knew nothing about Christmas, but he had learned from the books he’d read. According to the books there were gifts and delicious food and most of all people were getting together to share all of that.
People wanting to celebrate together … It was not something he’d ever grasped the meaning off until he met Christine. But now he understood and it hurt all the more for it. What he would not give to share moments with her by the fireplace, sit beneath a twinkly tree, to give her gifts. What he longed for the most was singing carols with her, his arms wrapped around her tightly, her head against his shoulder. At times his dreams seemed so real that he could almost taste it. But it was not meant to be: he was nothing but a voice to her, an invisible angel.
“It’s Christmas ...” Erik muttered softly to himself inside his dark hiding place. “According to books wishes come true at Christmas. Would it be so bad to wish for a few moments with Christine as a person, not a disembodied voice?” When his desperate thoughts started driving him to tears, Erik forced himself away from his hiding place and ran back into the darkness.
When he dashed into his home, Erik tripped over something that lay on the floor of his living room. That surprised him: he was always meticulously tidy. Though he had to admit, he had been a bit careless that day, depressed as he’d been about yet another lonely Christmas.
The scattered item turned out to be a book about Christmas by William Sandys that Erik had been reading; hoping to find an idea of what he could do to make Christine happy over Christmas in his angel guise.
Leafing through the book Erik startled when his eye fell on a passage he had not yet reached. A gasp escaped him: “Father Christmas a grotesque old man, with a large mask and comic wig, and a huge club in his hand.”
Immediately Erik knew: the book had not attracted his attention by accident!! His wish had been answered.
That year the stunned managers received a demand from the Phantom they had never expected:
“A Christmas Opera build from carols is to be created about a young girl, to be performed by Christine Daaé, seeking Father Christmas. Do not ignore this demand!! O.G.”
The strange spectre insisted that Sandys vision of good old Father Christmas was used for this specifically. The performance was to be held on Christmas Eve and should be free for the poor and children alike.
The managers relented to this wish good naturedly: if the ghost was filled with Christmas cheer and not demanding money, why not humour him? Besides, this could be good publicity.
The script was soon provided by Erik with all the Carols curated by him meticulously: only the best, most glorious Carols would be included.
It was the story of a lonely, young, girl who searched for Santa Claus, hoping he could help her find a home. After much hardship she finally finds him; but he is not at all what she expected.
Far from a kind, jolly, man he turns out to be a masked horror. Not wanting to listen to him she rejects him instantly, despite all she went through to find him. Despite the hurt of rejection Santa does want to help the girl, as he feel sorry for her and understands her disappointment.
So just when the girl turns to leave he starts to sing and upon hearing the kindness in his voice the girl understands that despite his appearance, his heart is full of love. Suddenly she realises that she has found her home.
Was it schmaltzy kitch and a big pile of wish fulfilment? Of course. Did this matter? No, it was Christmas, after-all.
To Erik’s delight his little Christine relished the chance to be part of an all new Opera, especially one about Christmas. The girl was a delight in her role and her voice suited his arrangements like a dream, as he’d hoped. Now all he needed to do was wait till Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve the Opera’s leading baritone was unexpectedly taken ill at the last minute and the managers were frantic. There was a full house packed with expectant parents and children. The press was there, and there was no Santa Claus!! What were they to do?!!
Five minutes before the curtain opened, Madame Giry arrived into the office with a note that told them:
“A replacement has been arranged, let the curtain rise and let the Opera begin. OG”
Both managers knew that if their mysterious Opera Ghost was one thing then it was the fact that he was always true to his word. Besides, there was no reason for him to ruin his own meticulously created project. The Opera would go ahead, they decided, neither one of them wanting the other to hear their silent prayers or see the fingers they crossed behind their backs.
The first half of the Opera was a triumph: Christine Daaé delighted her new audience and stole the hearts of children and parents everywhere.
But when the curtain closed to rapturous applause the atmosphere backstage was tense: where was Father Christmas? Where was the baritone they had been promised?
Then, just when the curtain was about to rise again another note fell: “He’ll be there when the time is right. OG.”
The Managers were non too pleased: what if it was a trick, a joke, a set up? But there was nothing they could do now, was there?
About fifteen minutes into act two the moment was there: Christine had reached the house of Father Christmas. Blissfully unaware of all the worries that filled the crew, she confidently knocked the door of the house. But then, much to the confusion of managers and audience alike, wavered upon hearing the voice that replied. Thankfully, the girl swiftly composed herself and continued in her role as if nothing had happened and all of them took it as a very realistic acting choice.
No-one had expected a cute little play about Christmas to be so emotional, so overwhelming or sang so passionately. The anonymous baritone had a voice that surely belonged to heaven and performed his role with such a desperate longing it moved everyone from grandfather to even the smallest child. Christine seemed a changed women: had she been adorable before, now there was a fire in her that non who had ever known her had seen before.
To the audience it was as if they were witnessing a real event, not two actors performing.
That was because they were witnessing a real event.
All those weeks, from the moment he hatched his scheme to the moment he set foot on stage Erik had miscalculated one detail: Christine knew his voice. In fact she knew his voice better than she knew her own. He only realised this when he saw her eyes widen in confusion when he sang his first lines. But it was too late to stop now, he had passed the point of no return and they had to get through this together.
And they did, and it was magnificent!! Perhaps it was even better that she knew him, now it was real.
There he was, singing on the stage of the Opera he build at last and with Christine!! Together they basked in the cheers and sobs, at times it as almost overwhelming for Erik.
For the next hour he and Christine sang together, held each other, did every Christmas thing he had ever wished to do with her. If it all ended after this he had tasted all the happiness the world could offer.
All too soon they reached the end: Christine or “the girl” told him or “Santa” she did not need to see his face, because she knew his heart and that was why she would stay. Oh, if only that could be real.
“And because of the faith and compassion of one young girl, Christmas would last forever.” The plays narrator ended the story far too soon for Erik’s liking.
The applause he received barely registered with him: he was standing next to his dear Christine, truly next to her, not separated by a wall and a mirror. But what would happen now that she knew he was a person, not an angel?
When he realised that Christine barely looked at him when they were swarmed by well wishers Erik took the chance to sneak out silently. It was probably better this way: he had his one moment of joy and the thought of his fragile happiness being shattered by her rightful tears and anger so soon was something he knew he might not be able to handle.
Moments later Erik found himself in Christine’s dressing room, though he doubted she would want to keep the room for much longer after this. He dashed to the mirror, hoping to sneak out before someone noticed him.
“Sneaking out, are we, angel? … Or should I call you … Opera Ghost?”
Too late!! He’d been discovered … by Christine!!
“I … I am sorry … I wanted to talk to you, Christine, truly …” Erik stammered as he turned around to face her. “But this was the greatest moment of my life and just wanted to preserve it for a while before facing your anger.”
The girl stared at him for a moment, her brow furrowed.
“I … should be angry with you … I know.” She said after a while. “But … I know you wrote that story, didn’t you?”
Erik nodded, feeling his cheeks flush with embarrassment behind his mask.
“And I notice you are still wearing your mask. So it must mean that what you wrote about Santa … that it is something you suffer yourself?”
Once again Erik nodded, unsure of what to say. Almost unsure of who he was now he found himself talking to Christine as himself.
“Is this why you approached me as you did? Just a voice?” Christine asked, her eyes questioning.
Erik had to open and close his mouth a few times before regaining his power of speech.
“Forgive me Christine ...” Erik whispered hoarsely. “I … I was born horribly disfigured and all my life people shunned me or hurt me the moment they knew. I’ve been alone for so long … One day I heard you sing and talk and I felt something … A connection I never knew before. I just wanted to get to know you, wanted to talk to someone who loved music, stories and magic as much as I do. But after what I have been through I … I …” And just like that his body betrayed him and began sobbing uncontrollably.
“Oh … don’t cry ...” Erik heard Christine say and to his surprise it sounded as if she were crying too.
“T .., thank you for understanding …” Erik choked out as he approached the mirror again. “I … would understand if you do not wish to see me again. I will go …”
But just as he pressed his shaking hand against the mechanism, Christine’s voice shot out.
“Don’t you dare!!”
Erik turned around with a flash like a startled cat and saw Christine standing in front of him, her eyes burning and brimming with tears all at once.
“Don’t you dare leave me!!” Christine exclaimed. “Don’t you realise I dreamed of this for all these months? Every night I prayed for my angel to be a person I could touch, hug … To be my friend: I too never met anyone who understands me like you do. To think we could have been sitting together instead of being separated by glass!!”
The world was swaying in front of Erik’s eyes as he listened to Christine. Could this be true? Was he dreaming? What was happening?
“You … you wish to know me even when ...” Erik’s shaking hand gestured to the mask.
“Erik, you know me better than you think. You already wrote the exact words I want to say to you: I don’t care about the way you look behind this mask, because I already know your heart, your soul and your voice. All I need now is a name to add to this.”
For a second Erik had to think: what was his name again? It had been so long since anyone had called him by it.
“Erik ...” he muttered eventually, his voice barely audible, overcome as he was by all that was happening. Never had he dared to believe that Christmas miracles existed. But what else could this be?
A smile lit Christine’s face upon hearing the true name of her strange angel. Then she stood on tiptoe to press a kiss on his chin the only part of his face that was not covered by a mask besides his mouth.
“Merry Christmas Erik!!” Christine said, with love in her voice.
And, because of the compassion of one young girl, for the first time in his life: it was!!