Seriously, it’s not. You can revive Christmas into that fun, magical, nostalgic, excitatory-yet-low-key holiday that it used to be; you just have to work a little harder at it.
Every so often the Ghost of Christmas Past comes back to haunt me, a harmless and pleasant experience. I remember the late afternoons, pitch-dark save for the ambient Christmas lights and candles. I remember going to various relatives’ houses, this one and then that. I remember a magical time in which everyone had the decency to celebrate one holiday at a time, waiting until after Thanksgiving to start thinking about Christmas.
Decorating the house was a magical experience; up went the lights, the mistletoe, the plastic (but realistic-looking) holly and berries, the Nativity Scene, and the Advent Calendar that hung on the refrigerator door that held a little piece of chocolate for each day. I remember decorating the tree, overflowing the ornaments, the surplus of which in later years spilled out onto the window seat of the giant bay window in the living room.
I remember my mother gathering us kids around the fire hearth and telling us stories of Jesus–not the official Council of Nicea version, but the more realistic version that had likely been far more accurate, such as the Three Wise Men being astrologers, and what Jesus actually did and taught. That version was more meaningful and exciting anyway.
I remember the sheer selfless thrill of the anonymous shopping spree for the Toys for Tots benefit. I remember the various Christmas-themed TV specials, like Charlie Brown/Peanuts, Disney/Donald Duck, and Dr. Seuss’s Grinch story. For the most part, it was a time of family, fun, and excitement.
For the most part.
There was a darker side, as one would expect. A history of alcoholism (both pre- and post-recovery, depending on the family member in question) painted colorful scenes in which there was (luckily) no fighting that I remember, but perhaps the bitterness and autonomic stress response that Conflicts or Pain of Christmas Past still continued to elicit many years later. Regardless, we were all determined to have fun and we stubbornly clung to the palpable electricity that the seasonal frenzy generated.
Over the years, Christmas never lost its magic or nostalgia, but chances are, this is at least partly because of an active intention on my part to seek it out and cultivate it from within. This gets a little tougher when even some of the larger area shopping malls neglect to display even the slightest of decorations outside (I’m looking at you, Stonebriar Mall, circa 2008-2009).
Christmas did, however, become tainted with a slight twinge of annoyance, as peoples’ decency and respect for others slowly eroded away, or as the TV commercials became more brazen and shameless. The sound of sleighbells became the Pavlov’s dog salivary reflex of the greedy and “the magic of this holiday season” became the token overused cliché. Gone were the Christmas catalogs of toys, replaced with pricey must-have electronic gadgets that put our old hand-held Gameboy systems to shame. Decorating slowly fell off the family post-Thanksgiving to-do lists of the wealthy, farmed out to various start-up companies willing to do the job professionally to the tune of about ten grand a pop, in some cases…which may or may not include the actual decoration rental.
Where had Christmas gone? My partner and I stubbornly hung in there, creating new traditions to fill the void of hijacked old ones. We refused to wrap ourselves into the tornadic frenzy of hyperspending, sticking to sensible budgets that allotted plenty for sensible gifts with more than enough meaning. We refused to brave the crowds of what came to be known as “Black Friday”, the day where you push and shove your way through crowds, rioting if you don’t get what you want, and trampling helpless innocent strangers, to preserve your child’s materialistic self-esteem by out-buying your children’s friends’ parents. We made liberal use of the “mute” and DVR “record” buttons on the remote control. We took a break from the political pages on Facebook.
Our traditions are fairly minimal. We light scented candles, shop online (or early, during off times), exchange gifts, put on music (usually multicultural or eclectic Christmas music like Gregorian Chant or early Enigma), watch our typical Christmas specials (including Peanuts, Animaniacs, Disney’s A Christmas Carol, and the PBS special about the magi, or some other such Christmas-around-the-world documentary, and of course, “A Christmas Story”), and appreciate and respect who Christ really was, what he really did, and why he’s really as cool as he’s made out to be.
These days, there is no alcoholic bickering, nor is there any lingering trace of any family dysfunction of Christmas Past. There is only the peace and calm of Christmas Now. And that’s why it’s a true Christmas Present.