Sunday, December 18, 2016

On Concentrated Christmases

For eleven months out of the year, I do not listen to Christmas music, I do not watch Christmas movies, and I do not drink eggnog.

But once Thanksgiving passes, all of the above are fair game. Moreover, I feast upon them.

I’ll be the first to admit that the way in which I celebrate Christmas is arbitrary and more than a little silly. Plenty of folks balk at seeing Christmas displays in stores the day after Halloween, but I know of few others who both reject all things Christmas-related so vehemently for the length of November, and who so passionately embrace traditions, custom and cliché alike, after the fourth Thursday of that month has passed.

That’s me, though. With the onset of December, things don’t feel right if I haven’t propped up my crooked little fiber-optic Christmas tree in a corner of the living room. If I haven’t watched It’s A Wonderful Life, Scrooged, Elf, Home Alone, and a handful of other films. If I haven’t listened to “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” “The Christians and The Pagans,” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” a couple dozen times each.

And I know that there’s a part of me that’s been programmed and scripted to adore such things. It’s the same part of me linked to shopping Black Friday sales online as much out practical deal hunting as out of a sense that this is what I should be doing. None of this holiday season hoopla, objectively, means anything. It’s a load of commercialized sentimentality plastered over one of the otherwise bleakest months of the year. It’s romanticizing the snow that I hate eleven months out of twelve, and recalling fires as warm and inviting rather than the stuff of primal humanity’s survival against the unforgiving cold.

But when my most cynical, disillusioned Grinch of a self starts to take control of my faculties--when I stop listening for sleigh bells and forego the eggnog in favor of a lower calorie beverage--I remind myself of why it all does matter to me.

I recall sitting on opposite ends of the basement couch with my sister, blankets over our laps, with stuffed animal dogs and bears and rabbits between us, as the pencils we used for school became the instruments with which we crafted our Christmas wish lists.

I remember biting into petit-four after petit-four around my grandmother’s kitchen table, watching Wheel of Fortune on an ten-inch black and white television, and the moment when the lot of us simultaneously solved the puzzle, “Dashing through the snow,” and went on to sing, “on a one horse open sleigh, over the hills we go, laughing all the way ho, ho, ho.”

I remember my de facto niece, Gianna, four years old, clutching the middle, ring, and pinky fingers of my left hand between her two tiny palms, pleading that she wanted to sit next to me at the table, and giggling when I picked her up to carry her to dinner.

I remember cramming altogether too many guests into my one bedroom Hampden apartment for a white elephant gift exchange, and thinking that having too many friends was about as nice of a Christmas problem as I was likely to have.

And I think that that’s why all of this jingle bell crock resonates with me to this day. Why I grow misty eyed each time George Bailey runs up the stairs and kisses his children, his wife, and his broken banister. Why I have trouble keeping my mind in the present when I hear the through the years, we all will be together. It’s not December 25, or the weeks leading up to it that matter. It’s this life, for which I could so easily, so regularly, lose myself in nostalgia, for all of these amazing people, and places, and things I’ve seen.

Concentrating this holiday fever into a single month keeps me from looking back too long, from spending too much money on presents, from letting all semblance of a reasonably fit grown up’s diet fall by the way side. But savoring it while it lasts--that month of December--reminds me of all of these pieces of me that still matter. People who have come and gone. People I have yet to meet.

And so, this December, I pour another glass of eggnog from its carton, warm it in the microwave and stir in a twist of Jack Daniel’s. I drink deeply. I am merry.

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