Christmas Eve. I grew up with no Jews around so I never thought to call the holidays anything but Christmas even though I didn't think about Christ on the day after I was six. Merry Christmas. Sounds nice. Comforting. All this Festivus shite is exactly that. Shite. More made up shit. I'm not bagging on Kwaanza. I went to a celebration a couple of years ago and it was touching. I try to say nothing but Happy Holidays these days. In my mind that means Christmas and New Year's rolled into one, but I'm coming to an understanding that the world is wide open and there are many iterations of the winter holidays occurring near the Solstice.
I've spent many a Christmas Eve in bars around the world. And in a Midnight Mass or two. I've shacked up with Jewish girls that had Christmas trees in their New York apartments. And once when I was stranded on a layover there was another old girlfriend that was a non-Christmas observing member of the tribe that picked me up from the airport. We drove around San Francisco taking pictures of empty laundromats and walking around the streets of the Mission that were quiet for once.
I have kids now, so there's a tree in the living room and some stockings hanging above the hearth. There's a big stack of presents in the garage that I wrapped a week ago from Santa. Tonight we'll put out some cookies and milk for the fat man. We'll read The Night Before Christmas. We'll eat bagels and lox tomorrow morning and open presents one at a time, going around the room until every gift has been received. It will take a long time. We won't talk about Jesus. We will say thank you several times and express our gratitude for more than the gifts we open. We'll eat roast duck as has become our family tradition. I'll assemble some toys in between skimming some of the books I'm likely to receive. Later I'll watch some basketball. The Blazers are playing.
Christmas hasn't always been a holiday that I've cherished or celebrated with joy and reverence. I had some disappointing ones as a kid. Jokey cards from convenience stores containing IOUs. Drunkenness. Violence. Stark reminders that all was far from well.
I've experienced a few odd ones. Like the time I was stranded in an apartment in Germany with a drunk Klansman from Missouri. It was my German girlfriend's place. Petra was a student at the local art college. She was away with her family, but let me stay there to get out of the barracks over the holiday. The redneck came with some friends that stopped by earlier and stayed behind when they left for some reason. The other guys were supposed to come back but there was a snow storm or something. In between telling me maudlin bigoted stories, he suggested that we put on Petra's underwear and just lounge about in them. It would be funny, he said. Finally, to shut him up about it, I let him call his family on her phone and listened to him blubber about missing them so. When the beer was gone I drank a bottle of Jagermeister that she had under the sink. It was the old style, regular shaped clear bottle with a hunter on the label. This was long before it became a craze in the U.S. and as far I'm concerned it should have stayed under the sink.
I'm never lonely on Christmas anymore. I don't talk to any of my friends. Or even think about them much. Some of it is having a family of my own that demands my attention. And the other is having four hundred of them just a few taps of my iPhone screen away. Facebook has taken a lot of the mystery and the romance out of old friendships. Reading holiday greetings in the form of status updates prompted some frustrated feelings in me earlier today. The festivus shite. But also the attempt at warmth through such a cold medium. Doesn't feel right somehow. Every time I hear the text alert on my phone I dread one of those mass holiday greeting texts. They make me feel lonely.
We went to the Nutcracker last night. Thankfully most people still dress up for it. My son was relieved he didn't wear a tie for nothing. He told me he thought it was going to be like when we went to the White House, that we would be the only family dressed formally, as he calls it. I tried to explain that we were dressed almost casually in comparison to dress a hundred years ago. I was thinking while watching the dancers that such a spectacle is less profound when we carry portals to almost every imaginable visual stimulation in our pockets. It isn't the same as a living breathing company of ballerinas twirling and leaping to a live orchestra on a beautiful designed stage, but it does diminish it a bit. I don't want it to, but it does somehow.
My children are excited to get a bunch of gifts and spend a couple of days with both mommy and daddy home. It's a special time for them and I'm glad to be a part of it. It's how I feel about most things religious; why do you have to make such a big deal out of things? The Natural World is amazing; do we really need to attribute it to God whipping it all up in a week? Talk about diminishment. Did we really need to invent this whole babe in a manger hoohaw just to get people to stop all the regular life stuff and have a feast and share some gifts? We do need tradition and ritual in our lives and I do suppose I've oversimplified things.
Anyway, I just needed to ramble a bit. Happy Holidays.