Do you get a little sick of all the warm-fuzzy hoo-ha this time of year? I’m not embarrassed to admit that I buy into all the good cheer to an extent and then slowly I feel like…where’s the New Year? I want all this behind me now. I wasn’t even going to get a tree until my son and his son’s mother walked in with a fine tree slung over his shoulder a few days ago. It makes them feel so good to give to others with nothing asked for in return. So I have a tree, a week before Christmas. The tree was decorated. I LOVED that look in my son’s eyes when he surprised me with it. Because I was starting to feel quite UN-holiday, as I stated at the beginning of this blog. I mean this year K-Mart’s commercials in particular seemed to push the envelope, so to speak. They actually had a commercial with a sing-song little jingle sung to the tune of the classic Jingle Bells song. It went something like this:
Shop shop shop
shop shop shop…
Shop shop shop shop shop!
When I was a schoolgirl, Christmas snowflakes were not just another bout of frozen precipitation for me to risk a heart attack in having to shovel them up. They were… each and every one a single jewel sent my way just for me. I know exactly where I was when I first realized this. I was in grade school and it was the last day before Christmas break. My mother had come to pick me up from school that day. It took us a while to get to the car because we got stalled on the school’s front walkway. My mother had smiles, holiday greetings, WHOLE conversations with other mothers picking up my classmates and so I was stuck alongside her (bored and wanting to get home and start my Christmas vacation. It was snowing! Come on already, mother!). She was all decked out in her brown (faux) fur coat. The one that made her seem like a pleasant, plump, blonde headed bear. I was eye-level with her furry brown sleeve when I really saw it for the first time in my life! A snowflake. A single flake hit the fur and just spread into a complex crystalline shape. Right before my eyes, like that, there it was! I pulled on her but she told me to mind myself and let her talk. Then it melted away. I saw another one! A hexagonal wonder! And then another snowflake hit her coat and rested there in the fur; so precarious, so fleeting. A six-armed crystalline prism; perfect in its symmetry; with sparkling ridges and dendrites… That FELT like Christmas.
My plump-cheeked fresh-faced pony-days are over but I retain the childlike wonder; most of the time anyway. At least, I try to. I remember the year I got two things I desperately wanted: a blow-dryer and a new tape recorder. Glory day! I was 12 years old. I couldn’t wait to “feather” back my hair and sing the songs from the Tommy rock movie into my new tape recorder. This loot trumped even the pogo stick I’d gotten at the age of 8. I’ll never forget the way I pulled those brand-spanking-new things out of their protective packing of styrofoam and just sniffed them and sniffed them before I removed their plastic wrap. That newness smell. THAT felt like the epitome of Christmas.
Let me tell you something that happened a few nights ago, involving my 6 year old grandchild. We were cutting out paper snowflakes and distractedly watching one of the cable channels that has all the nature specials when a preview came on for a new show called, “Dude, You’re Screwed.” I wasn’t paying much attention to the promo but I think the gist of it was that the program was about a survivalist who has to brave the elements. My grandson innocently repeated the show’s name. “You’re screwed?” he said. “What does that even mean?” He went on: “Anyway, why would anyone make a TV show about being overcharged?” I was confused. I told him I didn’t understand. He went on to explain that when his Daddy looked at his WalMart receipt the other day he’d said, “Wow I I got screwed over.” He went on to explain to me that that meant Daddy got overcharged! I laughed. I laughed a lot. That type of joy seems like what Christmas should be.
When I became an at-home companion to a sweet older lady about two years ago, I was told a true story about her (adult) daughter who had died of cancer at home just a year or so before I started working there. I’ll call her daughter Cynthia. She didn’t have much longer to live and wanted to pass away at home with her siblings, friends and mother by her side. Seated in the living room one evening, Cynthia had the comfy chair that faced the hall and the front door. One that I often sit in myself now when I am at work. Cynthia said she heard music. The radio was not on. Neither was the TV. Everyone in the room became quiet and cocked an ear. We don’t hear it, they all told her. “But you MUST hear it! You have to hear it! It’s so beautiful,” said Cynthia who was smiling broadly, although she was surely in great pain. And then she pointed toward the hall. Everyone got up to look, and shrugged. Nothing was there. “Don’t you see her?” Cynthia asked. “She’s the most beautiful person I have ever seen…Where is the music coming from?” Cynthia smiled, and looking at something or someone in the hallway she said, “You are so beautiful. Who are you?” Then Cynthia was gone. She passed. It’s sad, yes, and it’s also probably the way any of us would want to go when in fact we move on ourselves. There’s something magic about what happened to Cynthia. Although she didn’t pass around Christmas time, I feel her in that house very strongly around the holidays. One day I heard her laughter. Once I went into the kitchen and found several cabinet doors wide open. There’s something mysterious, something magical in all of it. The feeling I had hearing the story firsthand (I got goosebumps, I did) and the feelings I feel when Cynthia visits, that’s what Christmas SHOULD feel like, right?
I confess. This year I did something pretty ridiculous, even for me. I send Christmas cards every year but I thought the cost of stamps was going to prevent me from doing so this season. A friend cleaned out her holiday storage boxes and gave me bags and boxes of perfectly good Christmas cards. Well, that inspired me to buy the stamps (since I’d saved money on not buying cards). The cards she gave me were a mish mosh bunch. Some were ones I might’ve chosen myself-cheaply made cards with beautiful artwork: snow scenes, mangers, Santas. I had at least fifty or more to choose from. There were even Hallmark cards in the batch and pretty envelopes with Christmas scenes across the front. I whipped out my address book and began addressing cards. I was at it for hours, signing, addressing envelopes, writing messages inside. If I liked a particular image, let’s say the card with the puppies in Santa hats, well then I sent that one to several people…It wasn’t until a few days ago that I wondered why I didn’t receive very many cards this year. You see, if I don’t send any, I usually get two or three but no more. But if I send a big batch, I usually get just as many in return. So I cleaned up the unused leftover cards and prepared them for storage. I could use them next year after all. Then one card flipped open. It was an attractive enough card; it had a simple tan design with a holiday bough of evergreen on the front with a beautiful flowing script that wished the recipient a wonderful holiday. In fact I’d probably sent out quite a few of those. When I read the words inside the card, I froze. How could I have overlooked the seasons greetings inside this particular card?! Here’s the actual inside of the card:
Had I signed off these cards without reading the insides? Well, yes and in all fairness I hadn’t expected this TYPE of card to be in the bunch my friend gave me. So yes I did probably thank a half dozen or more friends and family for our “business relationship,” albeit unknowingly, what a sarcastic thing to do! My mind reeled. Do I put a disclaimer on facebook warning people of the glitch? But not everyone on my card list is even ON facebook, so no that wouldn’t be effective. I let it go. (I admit it, I even had a good laugh after I got over the APPALLED feeling. Well, honestly I still have that feeling.)
So what is Christmas then? Here’s my shortlist, gleaned from the things I’ve mentioned here, which have all come to mind (or in the case of the great Christmas card fiasco, actually happened) this December.
What Christmas is:
giving (my son and my tree)
the awestruck wonder in viewing unexpected beautous sights (like the snowflakes)
smells that make you happy inside (whether that’s hot cider, baked bread or brand new blowdryers and tape recorders)
innocence of children/truly laughing
reminding oneself we’re all mortals (think Cynthia’s passing) and feeling moved by something almost magic. A ‘higher’ power?
Yeah I messed up on the cards this year…I’m shaking my head as I write this. But ya’ know what?
I know what Christmas isn’t:
Shop shop shop
shop shop shop…
Shop shop shop shop shop!
(Did you just sing that to the tune of Jingle Bells?)