The Christmas Spirit

This year I didn’t want to Christmas. I didn’t want stockings and trees hung with tinsel, twinkle lights, fragile glass ornaments. I didn’t want to pull out the dusty boxes from the shed, look for spiders and sneeze. I didn’t want to feel jolly, merry or bright.

I didn’t want to be distracted by the Spirit, the blessing, the idea of Christmas. Not right now. Not this year.

For a while, I’ve been the girl wearing a Ba Hum Bug sweater and drinking in the kitchen while everyone is gathered in the den singing Tra La La! It’s a fist fight with the Holidays — it’s gotten worse every year, like a degenerative illness.

Sometimes I blame consumerism. The mad grab for gifts. The long list of people I wish I could buy for. The feeling of TOO MUCH and NOT ENOUGH. The stress of saying no, or not no and wishing you had. The way your adrenaline spikes with the rip-tear of the paper and then crashes when its all over and there’s just no more. The way you feel when you realize gifts don’t always mean what you want them to. The let down. The fact that you don’t need anything at all, yet so many will never have enough. The way that makes gifts look ugly even wrapped in sparkling crimson and green.

Sometimes I’m selfish. I blame the disruption of my routine. Maybe if Christmas could just politely come and go and not disrupt everything around it, screw up bed times, mess with weekends, alter workdays. Maybe then it wouldn’t bother me so much. If there were no parties and no extra work. If Christmas could be like Columbus Day, then maybe I’d tolerate it better.

Sometimes I blame family. Mine. My husband’s. Other people’s. The First Family. The Royal Family. Mary, Joseph, Jesus in a manger. All those people doing Christmas their way and me still trying to figure out what my way is. All the schedules that have to line up. All the emotions that fill rooms already too small and warm. I blame the missing family, the ones we wish were around but aren’t, can’t be, and so there’s a strange cold place where they used to sit, laugh, cry. All the adjusting we do. All the expectations that will never be met.

I blame the election. Everyone on Facebook and Twitter. The news cycle. I blame everyone’s Christmas Tree pictures on Instagram. It’s Starbucks and Target’s fault. It’s Taylor Swift’s fault for creating Christmas goals I will never be long legged enough to achieve. I blame Christmas movies with John William’s soundtracks when my life just sounds like video games and Michael Jackson on an endless loop.

But it’s not really any of those things, and I know that.

It’s me. It’s because I’m afraid of it spoiling. Getting tainted. Painted in colors and shades that make it look ugly. Somewhere along the way everything became a target for anger. Somehow everything can fall apart if we let it. How can we feel Christmasy with the world the way that it is? What is even the point?

I decided I wouldn’t put up a tree. We are traveling for some of December. We aren’t doing a lot of gifts. We aren’t even doing Santa with my son this year. He quietly told me last week, You know mom, I don’t need that anymore.

Ba Hum Bug. Pour me some Scotch.

On the way home from my mom’s house today, my son asked me if we were putting the stockings up. Stockings, that’s our thing. We go to Target a couple days before Christmas Eve and my husband and I separate, buying ludicrous, silly, tasty, thoughtful things to stuff our stockings full with. We’ve done it since we first got married. We added our son to the tradition when he came along.

Stockings. A memory worth clinging to. Blip. That’s the sound of my heart growing Grinch-style.

When my son and I opened the dusty, wasp infested shed this afternoon and started rummaging around in the cobwebs for the box with our stockings, he scooted right up to me, big blue eyes shiny even in the dim light. I want to put up the tree. Just a whisper.

Blip. My heart grew again.

And even though I had convinced myself it didn’t matter to me, that I didn’t need the tree this year, I said okay. I pulled out the box and we hauled it inside. We sneezed and laughed,  blaring Christmas music over his Pokeball mini-speaker. A section of the lights wouldn’t light. I couldn’t get the topper to top. It was all a little messy and uneven — like life, like everything else that I love— but then he started pulling out ornaments, telling me where they came from, what they meant to him. Reminding me where we got this one, when we made that one. He said I love this one, and this one and this one.

Blipblipblip. My heart was too big.

It mattered to him. The Tree. The moment and memories. They were something to him. And the scary truth I didn’t want to face: they were something to me, too. Something that could be cracked and chipped, loose luster, but somehow not beauty. Something of value that I wanted to love and appreciate especially because it might not be perfect.

Christmas isn’t perfect, but neither are we. Neither is the world.

That’s a reason to fight for it.

tree

All I Want for Christmas, Part Two: To Believe

santa
I was not raised to believe in Santa Clause. My parents didn’t want to perpetuate a tale I would only one day discover to be false. As Christians, there was the concern that if I believed in Santa because they told me he was real and I found out they lied, what would I think about God. The logic is pretty sound, even if ultimately believing in God comes down to more than what your parents say.

My husband wasn’t raised to believe in Santa either. I don’t think his parent’s reasoning was a defined, I just think my husband and his siblings weren’t that interested.

Even though I didn’t believe in Santa as a real person, jolly in the North Pole with a gaggle of elves and flying reindeer, I loved Christmas. It didn’t hinder the mystery or inhibit my imagination in any way. I was, as you can probably deduct, a head-in-the-clouds type already. I didn’t need any help in that department. I loved Santa Movies. I loved my parents. Getting a present from them was more valuable than getting one from an imaginary fat man. (My dad has been silver-headed and heavy set as long as I remember.) I loved the manger story. I loved Christmas trees and Rudolph movies.

Sure, there was always the compulsion to tell an unwitting friend who did believe that it was a crock. In fact, when I was eight years old, I remember conspiring with a Jehovah’s Witness friend at school (who was slightly bitter about not getting to celebrate or believe herself) to break the news to our doe-eyed comrade that her parents were scamming her. I also waged a campaign that year for my Jehovah’s Witness friend to have a birthday party. I had a finite sense of justice. Not right and wrong — as is made clear by the fact that I did end up souring Santa for my naive friend — but justice. I also spent a lot of my time in trouble that year, and most years to follow.

This is a roundabout way for me to tell you my husband and I had decided not to do Santa with Sam. It wasn’t even a consideration in my mind. Up until this Christmas, it wasn’t a consideration in Sam’s mind either. But things change.

As you know, Sam is obsessed with Superheroes. My family is kind of hardwired for fantasy, so Sam’s existence in the Marvel Universe (or DC) is not shocking. He is drawn to the imaginary, the fantastical, the beyond-our-own-reality. Which is why, when his cousin told him Santa was real, Sam believed.

Much to my chagrin.

When he told me that Santa was coming on Christmas Eve and bringing him a Flash costume (The DC Comics Superhero) I was irked, but trapped. I couldn’t tell him no. I couldn’t sit a three year old down and say, “Sorry, honey, Santa isn’t going to bring you a Flash costume, because Santa isn’t real.” I’d rather not think about the psychological damage, or the fit, they would ensue.

Nor do I see the point in it. He has chosen to believe. Isn’t that what we want our children to do? We want them to make choices about their faith, or how they exhibit their faith, and it’s not up to us how that plays out. One day, he’ll learn Santa is a myth. (At which point I will direct him to his cousin to place blame.) Right now, his belief is a joy to him. It’s an expression of his willingness to accept the magic in the world, whether that magic is real or imagined.

I have chosen to believe many things in life, some with tangible proof, and some merely because I want to. Choosing to believe is a lifelong dance. I value these simple choices for Sam, these choices made by easy faith, and I revel that he is learning the tools to make greater choices one day.

Santa may not be real. Santa may not be my first choice. But it was his. And the Flash costume we ordered from Amazon that came in the mail yesterday will have a special note from Santa, written in handwriting oddly similar to Mom.

All I Want for Christmas, Part One: Planted Feet and Palms Pressed Together

poinsettia
This is the second Christmas in a row we’ve spent in Texas, when we actually live in New York. This is our second Christmas setting up a tree at a house that isn’t ours. Hanging stockings on a mantel above a hearth that’s not our home. This is the second year of feeling transplanted, up rooted, and disjointed at the Holiday season.

It’s our sons third year of life. His fourth Christmas. My son doesn’t remember the first Christmas he was on earth. He doesn’t remember the snow, or our little house with the white fireplace and the tinsel strung throughout. He can’t remember that for his second Christmas I didn’t want to set up a tree, so I bought a little silver one already twined with lights and plugged it in. He doesn’t know that last year, I hated Christmas. I had no spirit for it. Right now, my son sees a mom determined to be jolly. I’m the mom who took him to the shed behind her uncles house in the darkness, the light from Sam’s flashlight illuminating the path, to haul in a box of Christmas decorations she’d packed away when we moved. He watched me arrange tinsel strung garland across the mantel of a house that isn’t mine. He helped me hang ornaments, some deeply sentimental, in the glow of a lighted tree I didn’t pick out from the store.

We are living a divided life. Our family in Texas, our work in New York. We fly back and forth in airplanes as if we were driving across town in a car. Setting up a tree for Christmas, hanging a stocking, lighting a Hanukkah candle, these things become more important when your life is so confusing.

The Mayans may have been wrong about the world ending today, but it is not wrong to live as if it still could. Because it still could everyday. Mayan foolishness aside, our individual worlds, and the world as a whole, is not guaranteed tomorrow. Life is a complicated game we play, it’s a battlefield you can strategize but never fully control. I played the game of RISK once when I was babysitting a friends son. He was a master strategist at six years old. When we were setting up our campaigns, he explained I had gotten lucky. I got continents that work easily together. My battlefront would be more united because I wasn’t operating from a disadvantage created by previous misunderstanding or skirmish.

This was a pretty layered examination of the RISK world, six year old or not, and something I still think about many years later.

We are in a strange time. A time where we lose things and where we find new things. A time where we hold close those we love, and where we have to be willing to hand them off as well. The Holidays tend to make reflection difficult. It’s more common to be caught up, to be hustled and bustled into a credit card meltdown or a gift giving coma, but a gentle easing on of glasses over eyes for examination may be the prescription for the ailment of this peculiar season.

On Tuesday I took my son shopping in Denton. We went to the Square, which is filled with locally owned shops stocked with simple and personal presents. My son was wide eyed as we walked through the stores. He was picking out gifts for cousins and grandmas and Daddy. And I let him. And it was amazing to observe his choices. With every gift we bought, he reminded me why it mattered to buy in the first place. Why, when life is a hodgepodge of wonder and ruin, we keep walking on, holding hands, connected even as the world falls apart.

I won’t pretend to understand anything, or to always do good, or to always have faith. I won’t lie to you, many days I fall short. I just know that from the mouth of babes wisdom flows, and I believe, wisdom changes us. Division, bitterness, resentment will make you lose the battle. Link hands this Christmas. Pray together. Dance together. Play Patty Cake together. Whatever. Even if tomorrow you want to create a fist. Tomorrow may surprise you still.
sam hand