Highway to the Manger Zone
Ah, Christmas. December 25th. Big J's birthday, and according to my TV, the only day out of the entire year that I have the opportunity to tell every single person that I've ever loved that they mean something to me. The only day I have to get them something they've always wanted, but haven't already gotten themselves. It's also the best time of year to buy the most expensive things in stock at my local retailer.
At least, that's what I think the TV is telling me. All I know for sure is that the "shopping holiday" is back and that means the bookstore is crowded, the roads are jammed on Sundays, and all the commercials have snowflakes in them.
I'm not a huge fan of Christmas. I'm not against the idea of it, but I find the reality of an event based on giving in a country based on materialism often over shadows any of the original intent of this holiday. I didn't always feel this disdain for the holidays. I used to love Christmas, just like I used to love my birthday or any other event where I got gifts. What kid doesn't want crap all the time? It wasn't until I grew up a little that I realized that that was all Christmas was to me, just a time of hyperactive consumerism.
Maybe it is a result of being born in the 80s "Me" generation. Perhaps the corporations didn't start their full frontal assault of ads and great deals until I was just old enough to absorb it like a sponge from behind the bars of my crib. Maybe it was being a child raised with no religion or tradition. Maybe it was my childhood altogether, but as far as I can remember the underlying emotional attachment to Christmas has never really been there for me.
I remember walking around my house, where the holiday was and is still often held, on Christmas Eve. Clutching a stuffed replica of the crocodile from Disney's Peter Pan I would wander around the artificial forest of decorated trees and try not to get caught up in the complex web of blinking lights. For the month of December our house was transformed into a tiny art gallery dedicated to the latest in Yule Tide fashion. With small clans of porcelain Santas on display by the glow of the overhead lights of our bar and the dual tape deck in our stereo belting out Genesis and R.E.M. Or, if it was a year that my Dad was home sometimes he would sneak in and put in a Van Morrison tape.
Eventually, I would find my way through all of the lights, painted glass, and plastic foliage to the object of my affection. I didn't really care about our trees and all their trimmings. I wanted to see what every little boy wants to catch a glimpse of on the most magical night of the year: quality seasonal network programming. I wanted to see the Grinch, Frosty, Rudolph, Charlie Brown, and the lamp that looks like a leg. These were the shoes that only came once a year. They were movies I hadn't memorized all of the dialogue to and shows whose endings I had forgotten. Everybody likes TV in December.
Oh, and Santa? Sure why not? He's not very fun to be around but he gives you stuff. Santa is kind of like every kid's great uncle from Oklahoma.
These socks don't have a label, are they from Santa? Oh, wait, there's the tag. These are from Milton.
I even vividly remember the exact moment I realized that Santa wasn't real. Our stockings were always stuffed to the point of near breach. As I walked through the living room one day I noticed a small chocolate bear poking out of the top of my stocking. I was a little hungry and decided that one bear wouldn't be missed so I snatched it from the ceremonial sock and bolted. Usually on Christmas day everything is such a blur of wrapping paper and camera flashes that I never paid any attention to the little candy and knick knacks in the big red socks, but now that I had to escape from the crime scene I had a little time to examine my contraband. That's when I noticed the price tag that had "Brookshire's" printed above the $0.23.
"Santa can't make chocolate. He has to buy it like everyone else." That was my mother's response when presented with the evidence. My entire concept of Santa was destroyed. To a child the spirit of Christmas is based on the existence of Santa Clause. Without the primary figurehead there is nothing left to commonly bond the different aspects of the holiday together. Everything comes into question.
If Santa isn't real then are all the presents bought from a store? So is buying presents for the people you love the point of Christmas? What about Aunt Hazel? I don't even know her, so why does she get a present with my name on it? I didn't get Dad anything! Does that mean I didn't get Christmas right? Oh God, you can get holidays wrong?
Just like that I had lost a piece of my childhood forever and was thrust a little farther into adulthood, like a Saturn 5 jettisoning a booster rocket. I realized that buying things is the point of Christmas. It's a schedulable act of love that we can work into our busy lives. It's an occasion to get off of our asses and talk to the people we should be talking to year around. If it wasn't for Christmas my grandmother in England wouldn't even know I was still alive, or I her for that matter.
For some Christmas seems to light a fire inside of them to spread joy and cheer. To me it looks like an excuse to decorate your house as flamboyant as you want with no repercussions.
Candles on the entertainment center? Why not? Tiny statues of elderly, obese vagrants placed on top of the refrigerator with care? Sure. A goddamned bush in the middle of our den? Whatever.
All I know is that it's Christmas time again and I still don't get it. I've pretty much reserved myself to the fate of never knowing what the point of this holiday is. Is it Jesus? A friendly fat guy? Old Navy? Who knows? Who can know in this day and age? This isn't exactly a time of peace on earth or good will towards men.
I sit and think all of these things and then I see my wife, so excited as she adorns our home with colorful ornaments and little plastic reindeer. She laughs like a newborn baby at a little dancing penguin she found in a department store. She's even gone and planned something, a secret something, for the day after Christmas for the two of us.
My mother, who has been going through a rough time lately, even decided that she wanted Christmas at her house this year. She's finally ready to say "I think I'm going to be ok" and she's chosen December 25th to symbolize that. She wanted a sure way to get everyone together and just enjoy each other's company.
My Dad even dropped me an email from riot torn Bangladesh the other day to see how I was doing and wish me a Happy Christmas. It was a significant enough event for him to feel nothing less than compelled to communicate with his only son.
After all of that, the day can't be totally meaningless can it? If it can serve as a focal point for people that love each other to really show their significant others how much they care then perhaps I've just been looking in the wrong place for meaning.
I've been searching for the reason Christmas still exists in our flippant and fickle society, but I discovered something unexpected in my research. The meaning of any celebration, Christmas included, must be imbued before it can be observed. Christmas can't be proven to us cynical bastards, it has to be proven by us cynical bastards.
It's the old standard of "you get what you put into it."; the "it" in this case being purpose. No Ghost of Christmas Meaning is going to come by and lay it all out for me in a neat little package. I've got to get off my ass and make an effort to relax and enjoy the time of year a little. Because if we stop giving an effort, then the season really will be meaningless.
It's a lot to think about as Christmas draws frighteningly near. I have a lot of work ahead of me before I'm singing "Jingle Bells" but at least I have a starting point now.
Happy Holidays, everyone, and remember, it's never too early to start thinking about the things that matter the most.