Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Of Sugarplums Dancing

I'm not as naive as I seem about this. I can see that the artificial tree is baring its metal ribs in between the gaudy ornaments, half of which are handmade or flimsy or chipped from years of being knocked off the branches. I can see that the ripple of sparkling light coming off the tree is just the same old strand of white lights reflecting off the cheap plastic icicles hung to camouflage the poor tree’s ribs.

I know it’s out of fashion to love Christmas as much as I do. We’re supposed to grumble about how early the stores are waving it in our faces. We’re supposed to roll our eyes at the corny, overplayed music. We’re supposed to proclaim that the consumerism has killed this season’s magic, buried it under piles of 60 inch LCD televisions and sparkly candy cane striped candles that hit the shelves six weeks too early. We’re supposed to be too busy to remember what it is we used to like about this season, anyway.

But I love this time of year. I sing those songs like a drunk fool at a karaoke bar. I can’t wait to haul out the artificial tree and string up those ornaments, handmade and chipped and mostly ridiculous. To me, this season is still magical.

And it’s not because I’m some kind of Yuletide Pollyana. In fact, I think I love this season because my default setting is stuck somewhere between cynical and vaguely disappointed on almost any given day. Most of the year, I look around this angry, selfish world and I can’t believe that phrases like “Christmas cheer” have ever entered the cultural lexicon. Most of the time, everything seems so broken that I can’t imagine we could ever be, even for a few weeks of the year, a people full of peace and hope.

Of course, it's overdone and commercialized and all those things people like to grumble about. It's easy to let the commercials and the magazines poison us with unattainable images that seem to mock our modest attempts at making things merry and bright. Our shopping lists get longer ever year, and our budgets shrink. We inflate the value of things and buy into the advertising lies that tell us giving someone more stuff is the same as loving them. Several years ago, I mandated that I would no longer try to buy for everyone. I gave up and admitted that I will never find just the right gift for everyone in my life, and now Sam and I don’t buy presents for anyone but our children, each other, and our parents. And it's almost freeing, that simplicity, until a cousin or an aunt or a friend gives us something shiny to unwrap, and I feel that good old fashioned guilt sneak in and tell me I'm not doing enough.


No, the Christmas season isn't perfect.  It isn’t Currier and Ives for anyone. I almost never get to see my family on Christmas, and every year I am not with them, the missing of them is a raw and swollen place in my chest. This year, I’m beginning to see that my boys will never get to share the wonder of waiting for Santa together because we’ve got a seven year old who’s starting to get wise about the guy and a five year old who doesn’t even understand who Santa is yet. It’s just another reminder that my boys are growing apart as one skyrockets through childhood and the other lingers in his extended toddlerhood. And I’m afraid I’m going to have to admit that I won’t get the one thing I wanted most this year, won’t get it this year or ever, unless some miracle comes. The dream of another baby seems to be passing away right along with this spun out year.

We realize these things this time of year, the gaps and holes in our lives. Christmas does not bring the sadness, just illuminates it under the glare of a million icicle lights. We will never be with everyone we love on Christmas. Someone is always too far away, or too angry to share a room with us, or gone into the ether like one of those ghosts of Christmas past. The old wounds, no matter how long we’ve lived with them, start to ache this time of year.

But Christmas isn’t meant to remove us from our lives and drop us into some perfect land of happy gumdrops. It’s not supposed to be a day or a season where everything is perfect. It’s supposed to be a time when we all get together and hope: collectively, ridiculously, humbly all hoping in unison.

And I think it’s beautiful and inspiring and breathtaking that we still do. We waste electricity to fling cheer at the street, covering our houses in tacky colored lights and darn near breaking our necks to do it half the time, just to try and tell everyone who might drive by that we have not given up. We still believe, we still hope, and we will cast our light out there into the darkness of the long winter nights so maybe others will see and know that they are not alone.

We outgrow wonder, and yet we keep on selling it to our children, in stories of fat men in red suits and reindeer with glowing noses.  We keep selling them that little bit of wonder because their wonder is contagious, just as ours was to our parents.

We tell the story again and again of Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem, of the pains that came and how there was no room in the inn.  We sing songs about a girl giving birth in a pile of hay and laying a savior in a manger. We remember that angels sang and that shepherds came first, and later wise men came bringing strange gifts. 

We go to candlelight services and sing "Silent Night," and though we do it every year, we are moved every time at how dark the room is before the flames spread from wick to wick, and how bright it seems when we all raise our little, glowing flames in the end.

I just think it's all like magic, how we do that every year, and I don't care if it's out of fashion or naive or just plain overkill, I think I will love the Christmas season until the day I die.  So, have yourself a merry little Christmas, and let your heart be light. I'll have my lights on for you, just in case you need to remember that someone still believes, someone still has hope, and you are not alone.

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