Saturday, November 26, 2011

I Am Trying To Like Christmas. I Really Am.

Christmas Lights, Bokeh by Phoney Nickle
Christmas Lights, Bokeh, a photo by Phoney Nickle on Flickr.
I can't remember the last time I liked Christmas, but I know that I did once upon a time. But in my recent memory, Christmas has been something that I have merely managed to get through. Every year, I try to like Christmas, but I can't no matter what I do. Sorry everyone. I'm a lousy American...or something.

I was walking home from work yesterday (yeah, I worked yesterday--an 18-hour corporate retail extravaganza) and I noticed my neighbors had a snowman seated at their little breakfast table on their balcony. My initial reaction was almost condescending. How cute! They've purchased and installed a large fabric snowman on their balcony in an effort to say to folks, "Look! It's Christmas time!" You know, in case the non-stop carols on Lite FM weren't a dead giveaway--a sign for the stubborn or obtuse. What a bunch of fools!

Bunch of fools...except I know this isn't the case. I don't know them personally or anything, but I know that people who do this sort of thing are generally nice and not foolish at all. It's fun and stuff. I know this by watching others and remembering glimpses of when I thought it was fun too. Ugh...I got a little bit blue when I remembered that. I know I used to think this was fun and magical and all that, but now trying to feel what it's like to like Christmas is like trying imagine a place you've never been. What happened?

Let's examine and look backwards.

I work in corporate retail now. I don't have time to enjoy Christmas. Fair enough.

Money was tight in the preceding years. Sure money can't buy happiness, but it really sucks not to be able to get your kid the things you want to get him. But that wasn't it.

My divorce was final December 19, 2000. Six days later, that Christmas was my first Christmas as one half of a failed marriage. One half of the family I always wanted and never had. I remember the Christmas Day phone call from my freshly ex-husband. It was a kick in the chest. It was breathtakingly sad. We were confused. We were alone in separate crowds. We didn't know how to live without each other--even though that was what we needed to do (and only one of us knew that). We were bereft on the most abundant holiday of the year. That's bitterly depressing, but we moved on; and that's not when the Grinch stole my Christmas.

Back further. I remember when I was still married, the holidays were something to survive. I was in a volatile marriage and made every effort to put on the happy face of one who is fulfilled, safe and secure when we went to visit family. Instead of enjoying my loved ones, I deceived them. I couldn't wait to get home and stop pretending. Oh, and I felt like a fraud.

Further still. I remember calling my aunt from a pay phone in a really bad section of Rodgers Park in the 80s to say Merry Christmas. I was cold, hungry, scared, sad and sick. I was maybe 16. I hadn't been home in years. I missed my aunt and my grandma. I stayed away from my old neighborhood because I was afraid I'd get scooped up by authorities and sent to foster care. My aunt could barely hear me because my voice was almost gone, so we didn't talk for very long, but I did eek out the most clandestinely desperate 'Merry Christmas.' Then I walked back to the shithole where I was staying for the time being. There was no mention of Christmas. It was just another day there. We passed the bottle and forgot that we were forgotten.

Before that, I...ah. I see it now. Before that I was a very young girl. I loved the smell of the cedar incense cones that hid in those tiny log cabin burners. I loved the way the outdoor lights illuminated the 'portholes' they made by melting circles in the snow that covered the trees they were nestled in. I was warmed from within by the glow of the multicolored lights my step mom wove into the silver garland that lined every window in the house.  I thought all-blue lights on a tree with just the right amount of glass ornaments and tinsel engendered magic. I knew there was no Santa, but I believed in him anyway.

Sounds lovely, doesn't it? It was. Until it was rendered absurd and meaningless by someone's violent, irrational whim. And it always was. Year after year. I started to 'know better' than to get caught up in the Christmas fantasy. It felt utterly foolish. It was a waste of time and energy. Better to focus on how to navigate the minefields and negotiate with the terrorists. That or just leave and go somewhere where there is no Christmas. See how that works?

I have pulled it together and ostensibly done all the Christmas things (buy a tree, hang lights, make cookies, wear an ugly sweater, etc.) most years--for my son's sake, but I can only barely remember the last time I felt it on the inside. I really wanted to yesterday (I don't know why), but I just couldn't and it made me kind of sad. I don't think I'm sad about it anymore--just a little curious still maybe. Okay, maybe there's some longing. Maybe. Happy holidays, y'all.


Hardin Reddy said...

Maybe I'm dense, or cynical, or not religious, but I don't understand why these Christmas ideals aren't something we try to live up to all the time.

ShesAllWrite said...

There's that too. Yeah, we should always be nice to each other. But I think there is something special (I'm not going to say magical) about the winter holidays. I remember it--and I'd like to enjoy it again. Nothing to do with religion or anything. Just a human ritual and experience.

luvsnv said...

Lot of unresolved grief, betrayal, and abandonment issues. You are obviously a fighter and survivor - a talented one. Perhaps it is time to forgive and let go?

Bex said...

I share some of your experiences on this one. I used to love all of it, and any positive feelings I have left about Christmas are more akin to nostalgia for when I did love it. Those small child feelings withered away under the years of uncomfortable family gatherings properly attired a false smile, long silences and slow deliberate speech to carefully avoid mentioning financial woes, relationship strife, the lack of a shared religion, and the deep desire to go home and pull up the covers until it was all over. I hated wading through pudding-thick tension as we all pretended to be who the others wanted.
Years of service-heavy professions only intensified my negative feelings, revealing more mercenary ugliness frosted over with cheer. Fortunately the last four years my job in shipping had allowed me to dodge any holiday obligations, and neatly validated my killjoy dislike of the whole affair, but this season I have lost my excuse, and now what I used to hide, and grew to avoid, has been laid bare. I don't feel Christmas.
Now I go to tie red bows on my porch. At least it's still pretty.