Saturday, December 22, 2007

Santa and Me

As you can see here, I was a skeptic about Christmas right from the start. Who is this guy, my two-year old self seems to be asking. He is leering, right? And that number: 3890—what’s that about? I don’t actually remember this moment, but I have to say that looking at the photo at age 60, I still feel a twinge of anxiety—
though I absolutely love looking at my tasteful little coat and fabulous matching hat.

In my first real memory of Christmas, I’m five. I got a bride doll, all the rage then. I liked dolls, I probably asked for it. But when I saw the electric train Santa had brought my brother, I wanted that. Now. I pitched a fit when my dad said it was Jimmy’s train and Jimmy would share it when he was ready. Then sulked until Jimmy decided he was ready, which seemed like about a year. I was furious with him for having something to lord over me and at myself for not having the good sense to ask for a train myself (even though I was a girl). And, of course, guilty, guilty, guilty for being bad—on Christmas.

It pretty much went downhill from there. Every year I wanted something we couldn’t afford, I wanted a present someone else got, I wanted more presents. Things took a turn for the worse in the fourth grade when I fell in love with Little Women. Reading the scene in which the four perfect sisters sacrifice their Christmas breakfast so the poor family down the street can have a meal, I was consumed with guilt for wanting anything at all.

To tell the truth, I never have gotten in sync with Christmas. What is it, anyway? A religious sacrament, if you’re religious. The aftermath of pagan ritual,if you’re not. In either case, how did so much of the way we experience the holiday season become a months-long obligatory celebration of stuff? Christian, pagan, or just a regular person trying to live decently and well, who of us completely avoids the rat race? Who never gets stressed out by all there is to do? Who isn’t at least a little glad when it’s all over?

As for the magic of Santa, is there anyone who’d like to try to explain to poor children why they get virtually nothing and rich children get so much? Would anyone like to explain it to rich children, for that matter? Surely, some of them must wonder why Christmas works that way.

Okay, that’s my holiday rant. Predictable, since I just got back from the mall (again). If you have any "Bah, humbug" sentiments, feel free to vent them here!


Brian Mandabach said...

I love your clothes, too. In her pics with Santa, my little girl looks at least as skeptical as you and more terrified.

Christmas is a big struggle for many of us, I think. I like it, but I am often depressed by it as well.

I dig reading Dickens with my students--though I tend to talk too much because the writing is so fun, and I get all excited by it.

Now that xmas is over, I'm disgusted by the quantify of stuff and ready to un-spoil my children and myself. (though I am listening to my new ipod and it is incredible. the most amazing machine, aside from my guitars, ever. It might even be beautiful.)

But Christmas Eve, on my yearly walk, I found a spot on the Colorado College campus that was mostly out of the security light. I lay down on a little concrete wall half-way beneath a Ponderosa pine watched the sky for a while.

Clouds blew over the moon--or under it. Thin clouds that let the light shine through, mostly, except through the thickest parts, blowing by fast enough that watching them was engaging. They obscured and revealed stars, a planet, Orion a bit south, and the Pleiades a bit west, and soon I noticed that there were no clouds in the west, and despite this, they kept blowing in from that direction. So I focused on the westernmost cloud I could see, a little wisp that grew before my eyes and joined other wisps until it was a pretty good sized mass that came between me and the moon.

This didn't really surprise me any more than the plethora of faces I saw in the clouds when I first started looking at them. But it was cool to see the clouds form, to watch the vapors blowing in the wind a few hundred feet--maybe a thousand--above me, and to see the vapors expand or condense from the clear air.

Silent night.

Leila said...

I had one excellent Christmas Eve in 2005 when I was working at a large regional theater in Beverly, MA. Every year, they do a big production of "A Christmas Carol," so my friends and I were in Christmas Carol mode. We were finding allusions to the plot and the characters everywhere. On Christmas Eve, after the last show, we decided to go for a walk through the snowy streets of Beverly to see the fabulous decorations. As we walked among the stately Greek Revival homes with their tasteful bows, holly, wreaths, and lighted windows, we realized that we could just as easily have been in the 1840's as we could have been in the 21st century. We reached the end of the street, which is also the end of the continent, as it ends in a secluded spot by Salem Harbor. You go down 2 flights of stairs, and you'll find a bench by the water where we often sat and, like Brian Mandabach, contemplated the moon and stars because on a clear night there is nothing between you and them. Upon our return to our apartment, we shared our thoughts on our time-traveling jaunt through Beverly. The boyfriend of one of my buddies said, "You know, I think we fit the archetypes of a Christmas Carol." And we all agreed that we did. The boyfriend (Josh) with his hearty laugh, beard and long, flowing locks made a perfect Ghost of Christmas present. The girlfriend (Lauren) was the Ghost of Christmas Past, as she sometimes took on the persona of Gaia, the Earth-Mother. My close friend Matt--a Gemini, a mercurialist, a messenger--we concluded was Jacob Marley. And I was the Ghost of Christmas Future because--what can I say--I'm a herald of Death. Well, as Matt put it, I'm like a bog--deep, dark, ancient, fluid, and I hold secrets. Also, I give prophetic warnings. Cool! I thought it fitting and still do. So that Christmas Eve was a pretty magickal one involving time travel and shapeshifting. It's pretty impressive that Dickens' managed to give Christmas a whole new set of archetypes with their own message which we were able to explore that Eve. But of course, he couldn't do it without the original story of the birth of Christ, and before Him, the Winter Solstice. And it goes on.