Tag Archives: Christmas spirit

What to get yourself for Christmas

picardchristmas

A cynic has no easier target than Christmas.  As November wanes and December waxes, garlands rise incrementally around the malls, Fox renews its annual War on Christmas™ coverage and the radio stations shuffle over to endless repeats of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You,” the holiday season reboots with all the originality and fervor of the latest superhero remake.  As the ornamented train shambles into the station, it brings with it the usual trappings of tinsel, spiked eggnog, impossible toy wish lists tailored by marketers and advertisers, hour-long quests for parking spots and harried photographers trying to capture the split second between tantrums as the toddler squirms on the lap of the weird bearded guy in the fuzzy red suit.  Movie studios roll out their usual December double act of just-in-time-for-awards-consideration artsy pieces and cheaply-cobbled- usually-starring-someone-from-a-failed-sitcom holiday fare for our consumption along with the millions of slain turkeys, pigs and tofu sloths we will burn for five hours and set amidst the plastic paraphernalia of our impeccably adorned dining room tables.  We will then gather the clan of people we’d ignore on the street if they weren’t related to us and consume our approximate body weight in shortbread and stuffing while hoping we don’t have to be subjected to yet another lecture about kids these days from the annoying uncle who dips too deeply into the punch bowl.

I nearly succumbed to this attitude the other night, while propelling our otherwise efficient and modestly economic vehicle at a funereal pace over gray sludge-strewn streets behind a throng of other roving metal boxes bent on the same destination.  Patience burned away to embers, and if not for the presence of my son in the back seat I have no doubt a few choice profanities would have splattered across the inside of my windshield.  Other than the exhaustion brought on by the end of the work day fused with sub-zero temperature and the (excuse the hyperbole) sheer inhumanity of total darkness at 5 p.m., there was no reason for it.  But for that brief moment, my Christmas spirit was absent, as though I’d left it in my other pants.  It is, I realized, a challenge to keep it.  No wonder Scrooge needed three scary-ass poltergeists to get him back into shape.

Christmas, as we’ve come to know it now, practically dares you to hate it.  It dares you to throw your hands up in resignation at the consumerism, the kitsch, the frequently awful music, the endless toys demanded from Santa that will be forgotten by February and the obsessive desire of some to recreate a neo-Dickensian display of forced family unity.  The pursuit of the “perfect Christmas” can be more of an exercise in stagecraft, as in designing the ideal movie set to permit the spontaneous eruption of merriment.  The “spirit” of Christmas is codified in a series of boxes to be ticked off:  tree, lights, cards, food, brown paper packages tied up with string.  I’m an atheist as you well know, but I sympathize sometimes with the Christians who put the “Keep Christ in Christmas” signs up out on their lawns alongside the backlit nativity scenes.  What are we celebrating, really?  The desperation of retailers to make up for months-long dry spells with one orgiastic year-end blow-out?  The ritual removal of millions of trees from the ecosystem to spend a few weeks inside living rooms before they are ground up for mulch?  Nerves frayed to the point of splitting in ensuring that everything goes exactly as planned and the turkey doesn’t catch fire?

To me, Christmas is best enjoyed broken down into small moments that form a series of triggers of positive emotions, both in connections to Christmases past and the forging of new memories to be cherished in the future.  The indelible scent of pine caught in the faintest whiff as you stroll into the kitchen for breakfast.  The adorable hand-crafted googly-eyed gingerbread man ornament smiling with a red felt mouth from within the branches.  The glow of candles and garland lights saturating the house with warmth as banks of frozen white pile up outside the windows.  The glint of those lights reflecting off the shiny wrap of the piles of gifts crowding the base of the tree.  Snowmen standing valiant guard outside.  The taste of cranberry, of red wine, of orange and of chocolate, popped into one’s mouth when no one is looking.  The scratches and pops on an old vinyl recording of a favorite holiday tune performed by a long-deceased crooner.  The telltale rattle of Lego in an unopened gift.  Fighting drowsy eyes to watch the 1951 A Christmas Carol for the thirtieth time while clad snug in brand new pj’s.  The silence of a house asleep, waiting for the arrival of Mr. Claus.  The face of the exuberant child beholding the bounty for the first time as cracks of sunlight spill through the windows and yawns escape lips.  The hug exchanged following the reveal of that most treasured item on the list that justifies in a heartbeat the hours spent combing the stores to find it.  And at the end of everything, sitting back on the couch, hot cocoa in hand, spouse curled up alongside, reflecting on a year of significant ups and dreary downs and thinking about the promise of new days to come.  Your mileage may vary, of course, but like the song says, these are a few of my favorite things.

You have to look for these little slices of wonder, be aware when they manifest and relish them before they disappear.  It’s the only way to avoid getting caught up in the pressure cooker that can often be the holiday experience and the overall dread of the inevitable January credit card bill.  But even the most notorious of failed Christmases will have its sublime moments hidden amidst the veil of falling snowflakes.  So grab a few this year and put them in your stocking.  They’re the best gift you can give yourself.

What are yours going to be?

Whither Christmas?

Gretchen Wilson’s country hit “Redneck Woman” has a line boasting about how she proudly keeps her Christmas lights on her front porch all year round.  You’d think that folks were taking her advice literally.  One cannot argue that it hasn’t been warm enough to find an opportunity to remove them; temperatures haven’t dropped below zero in weeks and just hit record highs a few days ago.  St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow and yet a stroll through my neighbourhood reveals plenty of garlands, ribbons, wreaths and even electric deer standing proudly as if waiting for a winter that never really came.  I know it can be tough, un-decorating always is.  But at some point you have to let go.  At this rate the poor Easter Bunny is going to have to muscle out Frosty and Rudolph for veranda space – his nimble cousins have already made an appearance in my backyard.  Given the heat I think old Cottontail can take Frosty, but Rudolph has those strong back legs that could give him a real challenge coming down the stretch.

Admittedly, this Christmas was kind of anticlimactic, especially since, misleading Weather Network reports to the contrary, December 25th came and went with nary a hint of snow.  And there was a palpable lack of Christmas spirit among my family, friends and colleagues; everybody sort of went through the seasonal motions, but nobody sounded like they were really looking forward to any festivities.  The non-stop carols that kick in on the radio on December 1st sounded tedious by December 4th, and Justin Bieber’s tribute to mistletoe played unendingly didn’t help either.  (I did not hear “Fairytale of New York” or “Christmas Wrapping” once on any FM station, which is criminal.)  Our own decorations were a Griswoldian source of frustration, with two exterior pre-lit trees blowing over and smashing their bulbs at the slightest gust of wind despite my efforts to anchor them in place, a malfunctioning timer, strings of the infernal mini-lights on the big tree inside going dark in random patterns and a mysterious short blowing out the entire outside array.  And we won’t get in to the malfunction of our brand new oven in the middle of cooking Christmas dinner.

Despite the setbacks we put on the best show of holiday cheer we were able.  But there was something not quite right about the whole thing.  About December 28th it felt like we were still waiting for the real holidays to get going, although in truth, I was so fed up that I would have been happy at that point just to go back to work.  I suspect I’m not alone in that, and I wonder if perhaps that’s the reason there are so many decorations still adorning the nearby houses.  It’s like Linus waiting in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to appear, not realizing he missed Halloween in the process.

My better half has observed that people seem generally unhappy lately.  There is a dourness about the world that is lingering like the worst hangover you’ve ever had.  Poverty is deepening, inequality is worsening and governments aren’t listening to their people, preferring to re-fight old and long-settled battles in lieu of facing the true challenges.  One half of the country hates the other half with a deep-seeded bile it is unwilling to tame.  It is not enough for us to win anymore, we have to see our foe sprawling in the dirt with his limbs broken and face smashed in, and the ground around him scorched and salted.  When did we become so vindictive?  Why this epidemic of hate-thy-neighbour?  Is it those solar flares?  Or is there an insidious cancer eating away at the human soul?

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic.  But as any alcoholic will tell you, admitting you have a problem is the first step to addressing it.  So many Christmas decorations still out baking away under 20-degree Celsius March heat suggests that there might be a longing out there that everyone doesn’t even realize they share – a hope for the spirit of positivity and unity that lights the world in its coldest months, and was suspiciously absent this past twenty-fifth of December.  There’s no reason why we can’t spend the remainder of 2012 working to bring it back.