Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Taking Down Christmas

Each year, my wife and I dutifully assemble in the living room, get out the boxes, put  "Messiah" on backwards, and take down the Christmas tree. Then, for merry measure (follow me here) we stamp out every last vestige of the holiday and all three (or four) nativity sets, tiny wooden Christmas trees and the like, with the possible exception of the stray bits of pine tree that will continue to make periodically unannounced visits through next October.

Most years, despite any shortcomings of the actual event, I am sorry to see it go. But through patient application, I've managed to extend the holiday's end from the middle of Christmas morning until the weekend of or following Epiphany. That is just in case my wife decides we really ought to see whether our credit is good for 10 Lords a Leaping or whatever nonsense those lords have been up to since they got drummed out of parliament.

This year's edition was certainly an improvement on its predecessor. In 2016, so close to the Great Disruption that I was still numb from some of  the side effects, it was hard not to feel in exile. This year there is a new community, and some friends we've known for over a year. It is hard to put down roots in new soil and have it feel deep and satisfying. But this Christmas did what it could. It is hard to imagine it sometimes, but the season can heal.

Viewing it as we can't help doing -- Dickens knew it to be true -- as a node connecting us with seasons past and, more uncertainly, future, we often feel Christmas time more intensely than other times of year, and loss more acutely. I've been trying to process the loss of an entire community, despite most of its citizens still being alive, and reachable on Facebook.

Many of us act as though we simply want the whole thing to be over as soon as possible. I suspect a significant fraction of this to be fashionable complaining (where, if you aren't complaining, you must not be carrying your load), but I have a certain horror of the numbers of people who seem to go through life just doing what they think they are supposed to do because they are supposed to do it and never considering why or getting anything extravagant from it. There  seems to be an emotional deadness there to which I don't want to succumb. Maybe it is because I am an artist, and artists work with meaning and significance. We spend plenty of time just trying to survive, too, but pushing beyond that, we want to feel there is something good about being alive and a reason to share that.

I had a time -- maybe you did too -- when I felt the season hurrying by, and I felt like despite my best efforts, I wasn't going to be able to catch hold of it long enough for it to whisper something meaningful as it rushed past. That it would simply be a series of things done in the proper order but without imparting anything greater than a feeling that it had been done more or less correctly for another year, that 2017 might not have its own face, unique in the crowd of Christmases

It is gone, now. I think the season may have whispered something to me as it flew by, but I'm not sure what it is, yet. Adult Christmases are, of course, always more complicated, and perhaps that complexity increases as you get older, in which case I am finding this out. Old griefs can cause emotional retreat rather than a desire for confrontation, Blue Christmas services or no. But it occurs to me now that maybe this Christmas isn't finished. And maybe it shouldn't be. Old Ebenezer Scrooge may not be the only one who needs to live Christmas 365 days a year.

Given my sense these days of being at the beginning of a new time in life rather than the end of an old one, it is really not strange that I should feel this Christmas communicating with the future, that the gesture really won't be completed until next year, in which case my inner being may be in for a long holiday season after all. As Dickens would have preached, "may that be truly said of all of us.". The lights, the cheer, the music -- all good things, but the impulse, that inner enthusiasm that really makes it a time to rejoice, that is still with us if we search, and cultivate. And with patient striving, and depth of feeling, and a little luck, maybe it will even outlast the pine needles.

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