Every year at this time I meet the holidays with an Andy Rooney attack that comes on a lot like gout. It begins with the first Kay Jewelers ad. And expands with the Lexus sporting the big red bow in the driveway. Then it snowballs with the slender young mommies in cashmere V-neck sweaters sitting on the couch with their kids doing Fisher Price arts and crafts, and then the deal is sealed by Best Buy which manages to make me feel badly every year about my last Christmas present. And the anxiety ensues. Even if I boycott the TV…the anxiety ensues. Please don’t judge.
Only fifteen more shopping days til Christmas. Coughs up the same hairball as: It’s twelve o’clock– do you know where your children are? For some reason this year I’ve tossed change into every Salvation Army bucket I come across and managed to totally ignore the rest of the holidays. Call it over-compensation. I’m daunted. Dashed. Maybe even depressed. My children’s wish lists look like checklists for a Moon mission and everything begins with a lower case i. The only item I’ve had the stomach to purchase is a pair of Ellen underwear because I remember a friend of mine saying recently, “I would do anything for a pair of Ellen underwear.” I went on her website. And lo…they’re not just give-outs to movie-star guests. They’re actually for sale! So I bought her a pair. In red. Cost me twenty bucks. And didn’t do much in the way of assuaging holiday angst.
A long time ago, I used to revel and delight in this season. I used to make all my Christmas gifts. Ditto my wreaths and garlands. I’d lovingly tie raffia around jars of plum butter and tomato sauce; make homemade wrapping paper with potato-stamped designs from star and tree-shaped cookie cutters. Arrange sentimental photos in shadow boxes adorned with glue-gunned dried rose buds from my garden. There were collages I’d assemble using magazine cut-outs I’d collect for each loved one over the year in a box with their name on it, cuz that’s how thoughtful I was. Very very thoughtful. For years I hand-designed each Christmas card and wrote loving messages in each with a silver pen– three-four hundred of them. All addressed by hand. What the hell was my problem?
Oh I know…I wasn’t yet an embittered middle-aged woman. I was still in the spell, nay, the myth, of Christmas carrying me somehow into wintery wonderlandy bliss. Christmas trees hadn’t fallen yet and broken the antique ornaments. Prime ribs hadn’t come out grey and tough. Yorkshire puddings hadn’t fallen. Santa hadn’t had one too many glasses of nog the night before and woken up at three a.m. without the stockings attended to. Those were the pink pure days of dog-earing catalogues like L.L. Bean and Garnet Hill and Williams Sonoma and Land’s End and FAO Schwarz and systematically making sure that the usuals were under that tree Christmas morning– a pair of pj’s, slippers, monogrammed something-or-other, a puzzle, the hot new board game, a Breyer horse, a hard-back classic book, a Brio train, a stuffed turtle, a baby doll. One year my daughter asked for an orange baby from Santa Claus. “That’s all I want for Christmas. An orange baby doll.” And by gum…Santa found her a baby doll with orange hair and an orange dress that smelled like freaking oranges to boot. She named her Halloween. I don’t remember what she was for Halloween that year, but apparently it had an impact on her.
Here’s what I’d like to do for Christmas this year: convert to Judaism. The Jews have it right. Spread it out. Make it sacred day by day. They don’t blow it all in one heap of wrapping paper and Amazon boxes flung all over the living room. In our defense, however, at least our family opens the gifts one by one and ogles. At least the kids can’t come down the stairs until there are adults standing by at the bottom. Yes, with a video camera. Okay, and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas (that tradition ain’t going anywhere, even though they both roll their eyes the whole way down the stairs.) At least we’re not trying to impress anyone with our theme Christmas tree. No, each year our Christmas tree looks like a drag queen with dripping mascara because I’ve kept every single one of my ornaments from childhood, most of which have Snoopy on them somewhere, and every single one of the kids’ school project ornaments which means they sometimes catch fire. And because on principal I refuse to be “tasteful” and get dainty white lights anywhere near my tree. I like the big colored bulbs from my childhood– the kind that when you squint, the tree looks like it’s dancing. In Vegas.
I guess what I’m really saying is…I’m a sucker for Christmas. That’s the plain truth. And since my kids are growing up and will be off to college before I know it…and because they told me that they hope Santa has room on his Visa card this year wink wink…(and the truth is that Santa’s Visa card is in desperate need of some head room) Christmas hurts this year. It just plain hurts. Does anyone relate?
I don’t want it to hurt. I want to rally. I want to make a gingerbread house. I want to have a caroling party. I want to hang garlands over the breezeway door and adorn the mantle with cedar boughs and the staircase with drooping garlands and gold bows. I want to go to the Messiah and get chills and feel my heart explode during the Hallelujah chorus. I want to have Sees candy on the kitchen counter and I want to dare myself not to bite into one with a cherry in it. And smugly win. I want to force Paperwhite bulbs in my grandmother’s crystal bowl with tiny pebbles holding their roots and I want to smell them first thing Christmas morning when I start the tea kettle and everyone is still asleep and I want to feel grateful for the fact that I pulled it off another year. Everything magical. Dreams met. The baby Jesus safe in his olive wood creche being watched over by lambs and donkeys and shepherds and angels and loving parents and God. Traditions in tact. Still.
And yet, for some reason that’s beginning to sort of scare me…I’ve got my heels dug into the ground this year. It’s the 11th of December and I haven’t bought one present. Except for the underwear. I haven’t done Christmas cards. I haven’t even gotten the Christmas music out. Truth be told, there are still pumpkins on my front porch. Really rotten pumpkins. I guess it’s because I want a different kind of Christmas. I want a quiet little chapel in the woods where we go in, shake snow off our boots, and watch our breath merge as we sing Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel and Once in Royal David’s City and songs like that. Sacred songs.
How can I make Christmas sacred this year? I just don’t feel it. Maybe I need to have a Charlie Brown and It’s a Wonderul Life back-to-back all day marathon with toothpicks holding my eye-lids open like in Clockwork Orange. But even those good old standards (Clockwork Orange excluded) depress me. The sacred delivered by media. I want the holy to show this season. And yes, I’m sure that it will just when I least expect it. I’ll let you know when it does. And I’ll believe in it for now.