When we came to North Carolina we spent a few weeks with my aunt while my dad got a job at an apartment complex nearby. Then we moved in. I recall a handful of things here: There was a small group of friends (were they distant cousins?) who loved the show Beetle Boys (or something akin to that) about three kids (I think the middle one was a girl) who somehow gained magical Power Ranger-esque powers to transform into beetle-like fighters with special abilities. I liked the show and I watched it in secret whenever I could so I could play with my friend’s action figures, but my mom didn’t let me watch it and that was the end of that.
There was a large square courtyard in the middle of the complex that we would roller skate around. There was one family who invited us to a birthday party at their house, which was almost opposite ours across the square, and they had on Nascar. I’ve never been much inclined to Nascar, but boy, did I love Jeff Gordan! The number 24 car. It was the most colorful one on the track, with all its stripes of colors, so perhaps that was what appealed most to me of him. Whatever it was, I was a fan. I even got a miniature scale of his car for a present sometime.
There was an older kid, maybe four or five years older than me, that lived somewhere in the complex. He had blond hair, a bit shaggy, and wildly rode around on his bike with us. He had the wind in his heart, and it drew mine to his. What I recall most of him, other than his dashing smile and athletic build (like I said before–why did I ever wonder of about things?) was that he would ride around hooting, “Beep beep, honk honk, woohoo!” It was catchy at the time. For one young boy in particular, even seductive.
My grandparents sent us some TY Beanie Babies while we lived there. I got Doby, and I loved Doby dearly. Then one time I lost him, and I looked everywhere but couldn’t find him anywhere. Somehow he had ended up in the closet. By that time he was covered in a layer of dust, and his fur hasn’t been quite the same since. For a time I amassed a massive collection of TY dogs, but now only one of them I keep out, resting nicely in a displayful mood atop my dresser, and that, if a guess cannot be granted so, is Doby.
There was also that time when a grasshopper got in my bed and freaked the life out of me. Then there was that time on my birthday when I stayed up in bed all night to watch the sunrise through my window at the very moment of my birth years before.
Then we moved again. We stayed in state, but we moved from one city to another fifty minutes away–again because my dad changed jobs. We were close enough to commute to our synagogue still (and we have for thirteen or fourteen years since), and it was in this new house that Christmas found its final incarnation.
It’s worthwhile to take a moment now to explain why my family–one thoroughly Jewish–celebrated Christmas at all. It’s a simple deduction, really: My mother had converted, so Christmas for her was a salvaged holiday, the leftovers of past traditions (my words, not hers). Additionally, her side of the family (and parts of my dad’s as well, come to think of it) still celebrate Christmas, so we inevitably get sucked into it somewhat, too. So. History lesson over.
For the first few years in our new house, we set up the Christmas tree the same as always. I remember pulling out the big boxes of ornaments and lights and decorations that only saw the light of day (let alone the air to breathe!) once every year in December. We would hang the ornaments, turn up the lights, add tinsel here and tinsel there. We would get presents under the tree–plenty of TY Beanie Babies for me, and more Legos, and one year we all got overalls. Denim overalls. I hated overalls, and I hated jeans. The irony is that, although I still dislike overalls, I thrive on jeans. Go figure.
In any case, Christmas here was still what Christmas was meant to be: A celebration of family and joy and good cheer for all. It wasn’t about the presents–well of course it was about the presents, we were children–but it was about more than just the presents, at any rate, and that’s what matters. I remember my dog Daffy playing in the wrapping paper and scurrying under the futon to chew on her own Christmas toy–a little rawhide bone just for her! So cute.
Given a few more years, however, we stopped celebrating Christmas at home. No more Christmas trees. No more ornaments. No more lights. No more decorations. No more Christmas morning surprises. It wasn’t a great loss, really, simply a bit of tradition left by the wayside. I don’t regret that we ever stopped celebrating Christmas, since all those things have come up elsewhere, or else are elsewhere lacking as well. Can you follow that logic?
Since we stopped celebrating Christmas in our own home, however, there’s only one face of Christmas that’s ever shown the world to us anymore: The material monster that puts a lovechild of Madonna and Lady Gaga to shame. For the sake of celebrating Jesus, we grudgingly give good will. For the sake of family and friends, we tire and stress over holiday greeting cards. For the sake of gift-giving and love, we slave on shopping lines and throw our money away for gifts that’ll soon be forgotten.
At least on Chanukah gifts aren’t compulsory–they’re actually gifts, given out of the goodness of one’s heart, and if circumstances provide, the generosity of their wallets as well.
But Chanukah is good and gone this year and I do believe I’m speaking of why I’ve come to hate Christmas. It’s clear by now all the reasons I had come to love the holiday, but it takes a lot to turn love into hatred, doesn’t it?
The materialism is only the tip of the iceberg. It wouldn’t be a serious flaw if the people, however, the people who pride themselves over all of this, didn’t buy into the media so badly. There’s no time worse in this world than Christmastime–people are pushy, the lines are the longest, everyone’s fighting over who gets what, we’re only happy if we get our way, and every good act we do is only the guise of the grudge we give ourselves whilst getting it done.
All this holiday cheer is only a mask for the turmoil and anguish underneath: It’s malevolent benevolence at its finest.
And as I repeatedly say of all human issues (if yet here than plenty in person): People are the problem.
I don’t care if gifts are obligatory. People can give from the heart and not feel the need to give until their wallets hold negative sums, or worse, feel the need to receive so much in the first place. I don’t care if there’s a little stress getting cards out on time–but be sincere about it, take the time to make each one individual and not identical to the others. I don’t care if you give charity–but do us all a charity and don’t give if you’re just going to complain about it. Have some faith, people, some simple morality and common courtesy–it’s not too difficult, is it?
We were shopping yesterday at the grocery store for some last minute ingredients for the twenty-or-so loaves of bread we were baking in the afternoon. When we got there, all the shopping carts were in use. I personally wouldn’t care, but my mom has a bad knee and needs the cart for support while we’re shopping for so long. And, like I said, there were no carts. There was one woman, however, who happily let me follow her to her car so we could use her cart when she was finished. She was all smiles and warmth as we plowed through the cold, and those smiles were surely sincere. Amidst all this busyness, this hubbub and malice, there was still a flicker of hope that what the holiday season is all about lives on.
I’m not sure what the holiday season really is all about, to be honest, but I know it’s not about the wringer we throw ourselves through every December. These cold winter months are a time for communion and unity and warmth and wellbeing–not stress and clamor and clashing with one another. These darkest days of the year are those we need most to exemplify and fill with light. Is this not obvious and clear? Since the dawn of time, since the first Pagans celebrated the solstice, the renewal of the sun as the days begin to lengthen again–is it not clear that our goal in the darkness is to draw forth the light? How did we lose this amidst newspaper clipping and holiday sales? How?
Such answers escape me.
There may come some future day when my distaste for Christmas is replaced permanently with the flavors of pumpkin pie and eggnog. There may come a day when I’m the one joyously bringing the gifts, or graciously able to give charity, or happily able to send off holiday cards to family and friends. But hopefully when that day comes, I won’t need the excuses of the holidays to want to give–that by then it’ll merely be an extension of year-round giving–made special by bringing some light back into the darkened winter world.
Someday, I hope. Someday we all can hope for.