It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
I wonder, sometimes, if we insist on using stylized, saccharine images of angels and jolly fat men because we want them to be our totems, a sort of balance against the insanity, bickering, and stress we know damn well the season will bring, or because we are all sadists and want to torture ourselves with the images of perfect Christmas that cannot be. Maybe it starts as the former and ends as the latter. Actually, I think it usually ends with the icon.
It would be nice to think that the screaming and stress of trying to get families together for the holidays is a modern phenomenon, that back in the day when moving far from home was setting your stake on the other side of town, or if you were really exotic, a nearby county, but I suspect that we just put the stress in different places then: who was getting who on Christmas Day vs. Christmas Eve, whose turn it was to make the cranberry sauce, and so on. And I imagine if we manage to keep the planet glued together long enough to hit something Star Trek-ish and we solve travel dilemmas by transporter beam, we’ll revert back to who is hosting and whether it will be turkey or ham, or come up with something unique to that era. What I know for sure is that it seems impossible to simply plan a holiday gathering without making most of the parties weep, without someone falling into the role of Peackeeper, someone donning the Diva Hat, and someone else sulking in the corner. It happens every single year in at least one radius of the family circle, so I guess it is either compulsory or that deep down we really, really like it.
I have to say, I don’t. I’m not so naive to think I am clever enough to escape it, because I never have, but I don’t like it. I don’t mind monkey wrenches. I don’t even mind last minute changes. But I don’t like the drama. And before any family members or friends start tensing in their chairs and think I’m airing laundry I shouldn’t–oh, just don’t even start, because, actually, it’s EVERYWHERE this year. And it’s nobody’s fault, at least in the sense that someone was stupid or thoughtless or selfish. It’s just schedules and the thwarting of plans, and rain on parades and exhaustion and stress. Moves and houses for sale and sick puppies and moves across the continent. Work schedules and contractors and Other Christmases and, I’m sure at some point, weather. And money. This year, of course, money makes everyone tense. The result is chaos, uncertainty, and stress, and angry, bleeding, and weeping snowmen. There is no solution. No one can be happy, not completely. There can be no plan, none, anyway, that will work. And so I write this little love note to the universe, and to anyone reading this who is having a bloody Christmas of their own.
(And pardon the pun.)
Seriously–that’s all there is to do. Chill out, take deep breaths, and as much as possible, smile. Smile, in fact, before every phone call, and before every email, and every sort of communication. When you think of the holiday get-togethers, think of them with fondness, not rage. Think of them with hope, not the iron fist of control. I think there’s a beauty to planning, to someone taking the reins and saying, "I will host this year. Tell me your dates that would be good." But it’s a bit late for that now–these are plans better made in February, or April, or September. For now, all we can do is coast and smile.
And bend. I know ice isn’t much or accommodation, but if you apply gentle heat, I think you can get it to edge a little. Gentle heat, though, and subtle, careful pressure. Oh, there’s a snowstorm coming? The car broke down? You accidentally overscheduled? That’s okay. Smile. Breathe. Chill, and seek a new plan, or say, with love and remorse, that you’re sorry, but it isn’t going to work, and vow to do better next year–then actually do better next year. In all of our family Christmases, it looks like it’s either not going to work at all or will have to be split up into shifts and sections, and possibly arranged ad hoc at the last minute. And you know what? So long as we all get together and love each other and we don’t spend the entire time listening to apologies or removing our spouse’s fingernails from where they have become embedded in the tabletop? Then I think it’s a success.
I don’t like how the holidays are the time when we seem most likely to forget that the actual goal is to get together with the people we allegedly love, to celebrate, not to stare daggers at one another. The mulled wine is not supposed to be medicinal. I don’t like how I begin December breathless for tinsel and cookies and holiday cheer and leave it with my shoulders so tense they’re locked against my ears. I don’t like how "the most wonderful time of the year" makes me so excited for the dark hibernation of January, largely because there aren’t any more parties to attend.
I think it’s too late for this year, but I’m going to tell everyone now what I want for Christmas next year, so you can start shopping early: I want to see you. What I want for Christmas is to be with the people that I love. Honestly? That’s it. Presents are fun, but it’s more fun to walk through a door into a warm room and see someone I don’t get to see enough coming at me with their arms open and a smile on their face. It’s nice if there’s food. It’s nice if the tree is up and soft music is playing and the room smells like something roasted or baked. But I’d take a stark white room and cold pizza if it meant I got to hug my sister Holli while I heard my brother laughing with his partner in the background, while Hillari waved at me while my mother took my daughter’s hand and asked her how things had been. I’d love to hear my dad tell some story about some cousin or great-uncle I’d forgotten I had, and I don’t care where it happens. I’d meet Jeff and Caryle and Mary at a truck stop and eat a Snickers just to play one more interminable game of Uno and hear Mary say she didn’t have enough cards. I’d get up in the middle of the night to have bowls of cereal with the Cullinans, at once or in shifts.
I would take any and every moment with every single one of my family and friends at Christmas, however and wherever and whenever I can get them. I am happy to organize or host gatherings, always. I will travel where and when I can, and when I know dates far in advance, I will plan and do my best to get there. And when the plans fall through and the perfect saccharine images start to bleed, please just keep smiling, because you all know damn well that we’d all just find a bloody snowman oddly amusing or at least ironic. If Christmas ever actually goes as planned, it will probably be during the apocalypse. Every other joyous holiday occasion will happen out of serindipity like it always does.
I have not always been drama-free in the great holiday dance, and I’ve had my shoulder-tensing moments this year, too. But do you know, for 2008, I’m done. I’m going to host or show up or whatever to whatever we do, and I’m just going to be so excited to see whoever I am lucky enough to see, whenever I see them. I’m going to look for the joy, and I’m going to be realistic, and take the Christmas plans and travel disappointments right along with the plans that end up working. If my snowman ends up axed, I’m just going to make him a new head, or enjoy the destruction of the perfect image. It’s probably more interesting altered anyway.
Merry Christmas. Here’s a toast to everyone’s happily fractured holidays.