I guess that’s what I think of Christmas. A Currier and Ives print of a dappled gray pulling a sleigh around the pond full of skaters in Victorian regalia and the overly jolly Coca-Cola inspired red suited Santa that has become the icon of the season. It used to be my reality. We prayed for snow and could barely sleep waiting for Santa. I looked forward to seeing the bounty displayed under the tree for the entire two-week school vacation not because of what I got but because it meant visiting was about to commence. You had to keep the gifts accessible to play with the parade of visiting cousins. There was a huge Christmas Eve with everyone at Vo and Gramp’s house followed by two solid weeks of everyone visiting everyone else’s house to see their tree and play with their toys and eat leftovers and candy. It was less about the gifts and more about the family gathering.
These traditions have faded into shadows of what they once were. My generation has grown up, moved out, and moved on. The extended family has become over extended and lost touch. We had so much less back then but we appreciated so much more. We had each other and everyone was in one place and the right things really mattered.
“I wish everyday could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world it would be…” I don’t think so any more. In my immediate family gift giving has become a numbers game. There is a dollar amount expected to be spent that was fixed by more financially centered members of the family. A dollar amount often exceeded by those same financially affluent members when something extravagant is asked for or found to be desired. The younger kids get so much that they sometimes have to take a nap in the middle of opening presents. They get a little older and it’s about the one big thing they want that is extravagant and excessive and will be forgotten in a week. Finally as teens it’s about the total amount of cash and checks acquired. It’s sad and not what it was like to feel Christmas.
This year I tried to stay the course. I tried to enjoy it. I tried to listen to the music but could only stand one CD because it was a departure from the traditional sound of Deck The Halls so it wasn’t like Christmas at all. I tried to get excited but I failed. I’ve been failing for the last few years. The outdoor lights are no more, the tree is down sized and decorated in only ten minutes, there aren’t any extravagant window treatments and while I forwent the checks to truly consider each person I was going to gift I couldn’t find joy in shopping amongst the thoughtless and heartless. Every thing is wrapped under the tree because I like to wrap and I thought it might help but it still feels pitiful. I know some of the recipients are going to wish for cash. I know some will be so over indulged that one more toy, book, or game is just going to be added to a pile.
It doesn’t’ help that family situations are strained at best. I feel wrong for wanting it to just be over. I’d feel worse not doing anything at all. I feel robbed that my kids want money to add to the other money they’ve asked everyone else for so they can buy whatever they want. I hate what this holiday has become for everyone around me. I hate how I feel about being around these people who don’t see anything, especially not each other. I hate that I feel obligated to keep up the farce and pretend it is “Christmas”. I keep thinking I will stop and not do this again next year and every year I still go about the motions knowing my lack of heart won’t be missed by anyone but me.
Ironically the Currier and Ives prints I associate with the season are a small part of their accumulated works but represent the biggest part of what is missing from the world on any given day. How many people will go to church tonight/tomorrow because it’s what they’ve always done though they’re not really getting the message? How many will be wringing their hands waiting for services to be over because they’ve got a thousand things to do so they can host the family tomorrow and exchange gifts showing each other just what they’re worth? How many will spend the day after Christmas making exchanges because the thought wasn’t quite right? How many will talk to another family member or friend about what awful gifts they received from yet another family member or friend?
Maybe Christmas/Chanukah/whatever else you may celebrate is outdated. Let’s be honest it’s a lot less about religion these days and more about the trappings. It’s not about 8 crazy nights of lamp oil or babies born without sexual relations in barnyards. Most of the people celebrating Kwanza have never even been to Africa or been raised in any African tradition. How many people are conveniently Jewish or Catholic on the holidays and devoid of anything remotely resembling their acclaimed religion the rest of the year? How many churches are overflowing for the next two days and on Easter only to be vacant for the other 51 Sundays in the year? Why not be honest with each other and ourselves and say we just need something to break the monotony of our day-to-day bitching so we can bitch bigger. We can bitch about traffic and prices and crowds. We can bitch about crappy gifts and too much food and gobs of candy. Maybe we should skip it all together and everyday can just melt into every other day and the standard level of bitching and moaning and disassociation can remain status quo. Maybe those who truly feel the spirit don’t need a special time of year to celebrate it with others because they do it everyday in ways that don’t have price tags.
I’d like to say merry and happy everything but would you believe me after all that? How about this, I hope I find some spirit that takes me beyond a price tag or any obligation I feel to an arbitrary date on a calendar? How about I hope I feel differently next year? Would you believe that?