I love the idea of Christmas. Not the Jesus part, but the romantic notion of the Season of Lights. The idea that we, as humans, are always trying to beat back the metaphorical darkness. (You know, rage, rage against the dying of the light.) So in this cold, dark season, we have created a holiday in which we string our homes with lights, put something green and alive inside our homes and gather together for warmth and sustenance. I imagine people a century ago gathered around woodstoves, surviving on the vegetables they canned in the summer and the hog they butchered in the fall, lighting the long nights with candles and gas lamps. Without the holidays, winter would surely have been a long and lonely season.
Even now, with global warming making winters in these parts nearly as warm as spring, and with all the comforts of modern times making the seasons almost irrelevant in the way we carry on our lives, I love the idea of a time when we all remember to be kind. When we give to those less fortunate. When we send notes to people we haven't talked to all year. When we gather with our families rather than making excuses. When we think about the people we love and try to give them something that will make them happy.
Now, let me give you a little snapshot of what Christmas is actually like. It's thinking, with more than a hint of bitterness, "Why bother with the goddamned Christmas cards? I've been sending them for 10 years, and still I get hardly any — except from my financial planner. Why don't I just save myself the time and effort and screw it?" And then the season arrives, and the cards start trickling in. Yeah, there's the one from the financial planner, but I still feel a twinge of regret. So I buy a small pack of cards and decide to send a few. But then I have to get some pictures printed, because what's the point of sending a card without a picture of your kid. It's too late to order them online, and I'm working six days this week, so I have to run into the camera store before work one morning to order them. I find a cute one of her with Santa, and I spend 15 minutes cropping and adjusting the color and all that. I go the next morning to pick up my photos, and realize I've ordered a few random photos, but forgot to actually order any prints of the Santa one. So I have to go home to get the damned memory card again, go back on my lunch break, struggle to find a parking space, crop the damned picture again and order it. And then I have to go back again that night, find a parking space again and wait in line to pick them up. All that to cross off one of the 15 things on my holiday to-do list.
The reality of Christmas is that I'm getting sick and I have a headache, and I'm extra busy at work trying to prepare for the holiday, and I'm worried about how much money I'm spending, and I'm wandering vacantly through the aisles of Kohl's (trying in vain to find a friendly and knowledgeable salesperson), and I'm annoyed that all the damned charities (and my newspaper carrier) want my money at a time when I don't have enough, and I'm just in a generally pissy mood about all that needs to be done. I'm going to have to see my in-laws on Christmas day, and a couple days later, we're going to have to drive 8 hours to see my family — neither of which sounds the slightest bit appealing. Every year, I struggle to find the balance between getting in the spirit of the season and driving myself nuts, between wishing for a time of sugar-coated family memories and writing it all off as a bunch of consumer-driven propaganda. I still haven't found that balance, and I'm starting to believe it doesn't exist. I'm starting to believe that Christmas is another one of those ideas that sounds great on paper but doesn't work in practice, kind of like Communism.