Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Your First Bad Christmas

Do you remember your first bad Christmas?

As a child, I loved listening for--and hearing--Santa's sleigh bells from my twin bed where I lay trying to fall asleep so I could wake up and see what he brought me.

No doubt this was actually a trash can adventure of one of the dozens of cats that seemed to roam our Tucson neighborhood at night, but to me it was the magic of Santa's visit. I remember seeing the passing shadow of the sleigh and reindeer taking off from our roof. Now, keep in mind, we did not have a chimney, but somehow I knew Santa worked it out just fine.

I pictured all the gifts he'd brought--just what I wanted, plus some he magically deduced I needed, but hadn't thought of--all cozy under the tree, with one special one--usually with some assembly required the night before--unwrapped and on display for immediate use.

Even when I was old enough to realize that Santa was really my parents I still retained the anticipation, the thrill, the delight of the days before and especially Christmas Day itself.

Then I turned thirteen.

I started with the usual excited feeling, anticipation, buying gifts my loved ones would enjoy, guessing what my loved ones would choose for me. Then it hit me...what's the point?

All this fuss and excitement, then a flurry of unwrapping and it's all over in a half-hour. After that, the letdown. A dress that has to be taken back because it has darts and I have no breasts to fill them with, the flicker of disappointment when I get the silver ID bracelet instead of the classier gold one all the cool kids have. And then, nothing, ordinary world, boredom, it's all over except taking the wrappings out to the trash.

Of course, most of my concerns at the time were petty and selfish and material, certainly not in the spirit of Christmas. I knew it then and I know it now, but that didn't help the feeling.

And even if we all got exactly what we wanted, soon enough the magic is gone and they're just objects. They don't love back. They don't last.

So what was all the fuss about? The excitement and anxiety? The thrill, the warm glow?

That awful Christmas, I longed to be small again, when the thrill seemed to go on and on and getting the baby doll who wet itself was the be all and end all of the season. Or, failing that,to be an adult who didn't care any more, who was content to open up a tie or a pair of slippers--can you IMAGINE?--and be content, vicariously enjoying Christmas through the shrieks and kisses of the young ones in the family.

Ah, adolescence. What a painful time. I still remember that hollow feeling in my stomach, that floundering around for real meaning beneath the tinsel and lights. This is not about religion, by the way or the birth of Jesus and all that. That's a separate consideration. I'm talking about Christmas in all its secular glory--Santa, surprises, chestnuts roasting, caroling, the whole magilla.

Gradually, of course, Christmas loosened its grip on me and my existential "what's it all about, Alfie?" angst faded. I was thrilled to see little kids open gifts and thought more about the love I felt for family and friends, the luck of being healthy and all together, the games we played, the jokes we told, the hugs we gave each other, the meals we shared, than the booty I hauled in.

But I'll never forget that one angsty 13-yr-old Christmas. It reminds me of that old Peggy Lee song "Is That All There Is?" It was when I first learned that I had to make meaning in my own life. It wouldn't arrive like a package on Christmas all wrapped up in a bow for me. Happiness and contentment take work and attention and time.

An important lesson. At the time, however, I really wanted that gold ID bracelet.

Tell me about a disillusioning Christmas you experienced and how you handled it. How do you make Christmas work for you?

My wish for you is a meaningful holiday season and all the gold ID bracelets you desire!
A HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, HQ SuperRomance, 11/10