It’s Christmastime. You know, Santa spoils your kids, you drink some eggnog, you put up with your relatives(again,) stuff like that. Everyone enjoys their extra day off, goes to work hungover, and waits a week to do it all over again, minus the presents.
It’s not that simple though, is it? I mean, it’s not for me. Humans like to paint with a broad brush. The truth of the matter is that everyone celebrates the holidays in their own way. Furthermore, not everyone feels the same way about the holidays.
I’m not just talking about people that celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, either. Some people have elaborate traditions that must be honored and adhered to. Others go through the motions, smiling around the growing ball of stress in their stomachs. Then of course you have the people that just want to blink and have it be over with.
It’s a fascinating look into the psyches of people. Christmas is unique in that respect. Few other measures cover so many aspects of the human mind with a single stimulus: Christmastime.
Now obviously most people first experience Christmas as children. This is one of the earliest opportunities parents get to pass down generational traditions and beliefs. For children, it’s their earliest exposure to the idea of such concepts.
My earliest memories only involve the jolly fat man bringing me presents on Christmas morning. We had to watch the Peanuts Christmas special, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. That was it, in the beginning.
There was no baby Jesus. There was no midnight mass or We Three Kings. My parents weren’t religious at all. I still recall with a smile a moment from later in my life that sums it all up quite well.
We went through a period of going to church and some of us, well, grasped it better than others. I said to my father in passing that we were Christians, and he replied “No! Don’t tell people that! We’re not Christians, we’re Catholic!”
Religion was not really our thing, is what I’m saying.
That moment came after my father remarried following my mother’s passing. My step mother was absolutely religious. She even had one of those cool/creepy Jesus figurines ripping its chest open to point at its little Jesus heart.
Now understand I totally fucking hated going to church. It was Catholic church on top of it, so even worse than normal church. Christmas was different, though.
I still couldn’t wait to leave church as soon as I got there, but there was something… different… about midnight mass. It had an altogether different feel to it than normal mass. It felt peaceful, almost magical, dare I say sacred.
At the time, I didn’t really understand it. I think I was between nine and twelve when we went to midnight mass. Looking back, I think it was the specialness of it.
It was night versus day. I was up instead of in bed. We sang old Christmas songs instead of those weird Catholic hymns. There was a charged feeling to the atmosphere, an air of quiet anticipation, all with that underlying feeling of sacredness.
While I didn’t miss my father’s second wife, I did miss that feeling when Christmas rolled around. It took a number of years to realize that it wasn’t the church I missed, or all the strict, arcane rules that surrounded it. I missed that quiet, peaceful, sacred feeling that came with Christmas eve.
Years later, I think I have a better grasp on it. We humans hit the ground running at top speed (some of us terribly hungover) at the beginning of the year. We don’t really get a chance to slow down and catch our breath until the end of the year grabs us by the face and makes us pay attention.
It’s like a good, hard slap. The year is almost over. It’s time to celebrate, though for many of us it’s just one more stress-point in a year full of stress-points. For people like me, it signals it’s time to realize that we’re nearly out of money and that life-saving tax return is so, so far away.
I actually see people getting angrier, not more cheerful, as the year draws to a close. Modern life has dictated that this be a stressful time of year. The bills pile up, we bleed money to buy gifts for everyone. Budgets get stretched to the limit. We drag our corpses out of bed before the sun rises to go to work until after the sun sets.
All during that time we are supposed to laugh, put on a happy face, and enjoy the season. Is it really such a wonder that everyone just wants it over? So few people remember the reason for the season, and no, I don’t mean baby Jesus.
For me, this time of year has become a time for reflection. It is a time to look back at who I was this year, and to make peace with it. It is a time to remember who I am, and try to find my inner peace before the race begins anew.
I think of the struggles I’ve faced this year. Somehow I’ve managed to survive the year without resorting to bankruptcy again. I’ve held together my marriage. My children haven’t devolved into bratty little hooligans.
I think of poor old Tom, my father in law that passed on two days before my birthday. I think of everything he did for me, how he transformed me. I think of how I will miss seeing his smiling face and listening to his boisterous stories.
I think of the reality that I am now a published author. I savor the reality that people actually want to read what I write. I must accept the reality that, at least for now, I will not make a living with my writing. I also must accept that, for whatever reason, nobody is interested in reading my second novel.
I revel in the fact that I ultimately don’t care, and am happily writing my third novel. I will continue to write and publish novels. I have nothing to prove, except that I will not give up.
These thoughts burn. They tighten my chest and bring tears to my eyes. These thoughts are who I am though, and I will learn to process and accept and fucking embrace them.
And as I sit here tonight in the dark, when the last of the presents are finally under the tree and a glass of scotch is in my hand, I will smile as I watch the lights twinkle.
Despite all that life has thrown at me, throughout all of the trials and tribulations, I have survived.
I sit here typing this, realizing that for the first time in a very long time, I know who I am again. I can accept my shortcomings again. And I can love myself again.
Yes, tonight I will sit here alone in the dark, soaking in the sacredness not of Christmas, but of the transition from one year to the next. The pain of the year will fade as the I prepare for the brightness of tomorrow morning. This sacred moment of silence when everything is possible, and hope can grow eternal, will envelop me once more.
May you all some day find this sacred peace. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and many happy returns.