*The is yet another challenge I presented my friends on Facebook. It is actually two suggestions combined: “Christmas from the heart” and Christmas too soon on the shelves. I skipped one suggestion (recycled glass art) because 1) that subject belongs on my other post and 2) I need to gather photos.
I no longer get as worked up about Christmas before Hallowe’en as I used to, which either means I’m a frog in the pot of water or I’ve mellowed with age. Both, probably.
Oh, you’ve never heard of the frog in the pot of water? I don’t know if it is true, but there’s a parable that goes around along the lines of this: you can put a frog in a pan of water on the stove and slowly increase the heat. The frog doesn’t realize the water is getting hotter because the increase is so gradual (seems unlikely, but…). The frog does not attempt to get out of the water and slowly cooks to death. The parable is used as an allegory of how we grow accustomed to things like violence on television, graphic photos during the evening news, and Christmas displays before Hallowe’en.
Pretty soon, we accept it as normal and by then, we’re already cooked and dead.
I will never be accustomed to violence on television, in movies, or in real life. And graphic photos during the evening news make me ill.
I am not fond of Christmas before Hallowe’en, but as long as they don’t actually start playing Carols, I think I can stomach it. But if I hear “Up on the Roof Top” or “Silver Bells” before my birthday, I’m going to come unglued.
Hey, there’s a MAJOR HOLIDAY between October First and the 3rd of December. Two, actually, if I’m gracious: My birthday and my brother’s birthday. Mine is more important and does not fall in the month of December when all bets are off. Sucks to have a December birthday.
For the record (mostly because my birthday comes first), I don’t usually purchase any Christmas presents before November 2. Then there’s Thanksgiving and I have to get the food out of the way, so I don’t usually purchase Christmas presents before we play a round of Mexican Train on the kitchen table and stuff ourselves to the gills with dinner, pie, and as many olives as you can fit on the ends of your fingers. The day after Thanksgiving is reserved for the annual “get a tree” trip.
This day used to involve putting the hand saw into the rig, heating up a thermos of hot cocoa, making sandwiches, and finding the box with knit beanies and gloves. The last couple of years, we have resorted to purchasing a pre-cut Noble Fir from the Catholic charity at the local Catholic school. It was easier to go cut a wild noble (nasty things are difficult to locate and harder to kill) when we had Young Blood with us. Or we were young. Not that Arwen or Levi were ever very helpful when it came to hauling a tree out of a steep ravine or off a dangerous cliff, but they were at least entertaining to bring with us. The years that Sam, our son-in-law, went with us were the best: Sam loves that kind of exercise.
The weekend following Christmas is always a flurry of decorating, hanging lights, and fretting. No one gets into this spirit better than I do and I guess my family learned to dive for cover when Mom was in a Christmas mood, because I never seemed to get a lot of help. Or maybe it was because I have this OCD thing about how the tree is decorated and I would rearrange everything after the kids were finished with their decorating. I blame that on my father who would stand and supervise us while we hung the aluminum tinsel on the tree, strand by strand, and *never* in a clump. Thanks, Dad.
This year, I have been thinking about my compulsion from a different angle. My new supervisor at work is a Brahman and she has been very diligent in introducing us to her many and varied celebrations. I have been struck at how the Hindi love color, love to decorate, and love to center their celebrations around food. Of course, I get that there is a lot of idolatry involved, but… isn’t my celebration of Christmas a lot of idolatry, too? My Santa collection, my snowmen, my different Nativity sets, all the tinsel and lights and porcelain?
Ouch. Don’t you love it when your fingers point back at you?
Not that it will stop me. My compulsion has less to do with the spirit of Christmas in a religious sense and more to do with the spirit of Christmas as a way to keep in touch with the magic I once felt as a ten year old girl still hoping for a horse hidden in the garage. I knew Santa Claus wasn’t real, but that year the snow slid off of the tin roof of our house in a pattern that looked just like a sleigh had actually landed up there in the night and my older brother pointed it out to us girls, “Hey, look: Santa came last night! he *is* real!”
We knew he was lying and he knew he was lying, but we all three wanted to believe it really was true.
I put up the lights, the various collections, hang the ornaments and the stockings – all because I want to recapture a smidgeon of that childish amazement when I looked around the house I grew up in (or houses, as it were) and felt that tingle of excitement run down my spine.
There are certain rituals that we write into our lives. For many people, Christmas is simply a time of hard times and they do not want to be reminded of the poverty they live in, the inability to provide the gifts their children ask for, or the loved ones that have passed away. I understand that, and it is also a driving force behind my compulsion to decorate, decorate, decorate.
The years have commenced and we have added to our family, but at the same time, the family has begun to divide and separate. Marriages and births brought in family, but they also took away family. Careers and the expected migration of the young away from the parental abode has done its work to divide and separate. Where once we celebrated Christmas as just the two of us, Donald and Jaci, young and in love – we will, once again, celebrate it as just the two of us, Donald and Jaci, still young and in love, but blessed by so many lives behind us. Grandchildren have added a dimension to Christmas that I don’t quite have a grasp on yet. My traditions will die with me, and when they die – a part of my mother and my grandmother will die.
I decorate the way I do, in part, to keep them alive. The baking and the cookies, the stockings, the tinsel and lights. Three generations of Melrose women. There are rituals in my decorating that remind me of my paternal gramps and my granny. My little sister lives on in the homemade things and the Nativity displays because she &I would haul out all the stuffed animals on Christmas Eve to make our own make-shift stuffed animal celebration. Cutting the tree reminds me of my dad – and my husband, who picks trees out that my father would have loved. It also reminds me of my brother and the tree we propped up in the living room with string (the one that “smelled like cat piss” according to my mother, who was less than impressed with our father’s choice of trees that year).
Writing this, I realize that Christmas – and Christmas from the heart – often has less to do with the actual religious holiday it is supposed to represent than it has to do with the rites and rituals of generations.
If I want to simply celebrate Christmas as it is meant to be celebrated: a welcoming of the birth of Jesus Christ – well, then all I need is to go to a candlelight church service and hold my lit candle in the air with all of the other believers, singing “O Holy Night”. The religious aspect of Christmas is encapsulated fully in that moment, no tinsel, no flashing lights, nothing more than the lifting of a thousand voices and candles lighting a room and all the faces there in. Christmas from the heart.
***this post took longer than I expected and I did have to pare it down in the end as I exceeded 1500 words. Final version: 1438. And it could still be edited down.***