Many of us grew up celebrating Christmas, and some of us still celebrate. I often wonder how people feel about Christmas, once they have discovered its antithesis– loss, despair, alienation, anxiety, and grief. Yesterday my family celebrated Christmas without our dear patriarch, our leader, husband, and dear Papa. I was lucky. I got violently ill, with a severe flu, which put me in bed for forty-eight hours, thus exempting me from the affair.
Everyone knows that I ceased celebrating the religious aspect of Christmas twenty years ago, but I continued to enjoy the family gift exchange on Christmas Eve. None of us needs gifts at this stage in our lives, but the tradition evokes nostalgic memories of childhood, when Santa Claus came every year, wiggled down our chimney, quietly laid an abundance of gifts around the tree, and climbed back up the chimney so quietly that we never woke up to catch him in the act. If I could bring back any single day of my childhood, it would be Christmas morning.
We never knew anything of hunger, economic deprivation, abuse, crime or natural disaster in those days. We were blessed even more richly than we knew.
This year, I announced that I would no longer participate in the gift exchange.
My father loved Christmas. He would sing Christmas carols; his joy in the season inspired everyone to join in the song. Volume meant more than melody; we wailed out the ancient tunes, ending up in tears of happiness and gratitude for another year that had passed with all of us still alive and well. My father was not religious, in the Christian sense of the word. Christmas for him, as for me, was an exercise in family bonding more than anything else, and it worked. It was a time for putting away problems, overlooking faults, and giving thanks for our blessings. It was a time for indulging the sweet tooth, for baking special cookies and rich breads. It was a time for adding sparkle and color to our home, with ribbons and wreaths and candles and cookies.
Choosing a Christmas present for someone in those days required a process of elimination, rather than a search for needle in a haystack. We all knew what each other wanted or needed. We didn’t have enough money to satisfy every desire all year round, so at Christmas time, our gift giving sounded like this:
Me: Mom really wants a new sweater for Christmas, but she won’t say so.
Sister: She’s been wanting a new blender for months.
Me: What about a purse? I know she’s been looking at purses lately.
Sister: OK, you buy the purse, and I’ll buy the blender. We’ll ask Pop to buy the sweater.
Now days, any one of us can buy anything anyone wants, and buy it better than anyone else. Now days, all the women are working, and no one has time for shopping, even though the selection and sales are better and better each year, such that one becomes dizzy from looking here and there, trying to take it all in. Christmas has become a time of stress and excess. For some of us, Christmas pokes at wounds that never fully heal. Christmas emphasizes our holes, where it once emphasized our unity.
It’s time to turn the clock way back on Christmas, back to indifference, back to the oblivion of infancy. This year I did it.