Tuesday, December 20, 2011

rest ye merry gentlemen

Child with Christmas Card
Alden Finney Brooks ( 1840 - 1932)
Watecolor, graphite and gold paint on wove cardboard
Maria DeWitt Jesup Fund, 1989 Accession Number: 1989.299, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Christmas did seem pretty swell when I was a kid. Sure there was Santa and the presents, but there were many other aspects of the season that made it different than the rest of the year.  Christmas served to soften the blow of the cold and bleak months that would follow. It was a sensory event filled with good cheer.

One day you would arrive home and Christmas cookies would be baking. Decorating them required concentration and teamwork. Another afternoon, you would find the stair's bannister transformed with swags of pine, fruit, silver beads and pale green satin ribbon. There was the advent calendar, the cut paper snowflakes, the ornament guessing game, the army of plastic carolers (my father piped music outside the house) and barrage christmas lights adorning our home. At school we would practice our carols for the pageant and each Sunday at Mass we would light the advent wreath. There was often snow on the ground and we would skate at the park after school. And the Christmas cards! It seemed as though my parents received hundreds. I would pour over them trying to order them best to worst. Every activity coerced that heightened sense of anticipation for the great day.

As time went on things fell off. Would my father get called in for a delivery? Would my mother drink too much? Would I get their tree be done by Christmas? Would I do my parent's Christmas shopping for them? Would I have to wrap my own Christmas present, which in the end would be two pairs of pants from Marshall's, four sizes too small and one of which was torn. (Yes, my father handed me the plastic Marshall's bag and told me to wrap it for myself.)

When I began my own adult life. I wanted to recapture all of the good things. After all, Christmas was the one time of year when everything looked special and everyone was kind to each other. You could still decorate the house, have a beautiful tree, make great food to enjoy with friends and family, and send out the type of card that you would surely have ranked in your own  top five. You could recapture, I thought, the good parts of your memories, perhaps even invent new ones. But nostalgia is a tricky thing and anticipation guarantees disappointment. The two married together are positively dangerous. You wish for something that never really was and hope for something that won't materialize and in the end, you have another day with a lot of stuff that just needs to be wrapped up and put away in just a couple of weeks.

Oh, I had that heightened sense of Christmas spirit for a day and a half this year and it was nice, but I just don't have the energy anymore. I guess, in the end, the satisfaction will come from just trying to live in the here and now and demonstrating kindness and compassion towards my fellow man, no matter their race, creed or means. You know, the Golden Rule. After all, wouldn't that be the best way to honor the individual Whose birthday started this whole spectacle?