It’s time to come clean. I hate Christmastime.
Please do not take this to mean that I hate Christmas in some Scrooge or Grinch-like fashion, that I have a personal objection to the holiday itself. i don’t–it just comes at the wrong time of year.
For one thing, it falls on the days of least light and deepest night of the whole year. It is dark when you get up for work and dark again when you come home and sit down for dinner. It’s bitter temperatures, and the weakness in your joints and bones remind you of your age and mortality until you re-acclimate yourself to the cold, if you can. In the ache of winter it hurts to be exposed in any way, sometimes even just to breathe and feel your nostrils stiffen and numb like the husk of some molted insect on your face.
Even if you don’t live somewhere frigid you are in the grips of the passing of one year into the next. Whatever threats or promises loom in the new year are yet restrained, waiting to burst through and be the first to pounce on you, but for now everything is wound down, tired, worn. Or, worse, the promises from when this year was new still hang in your closet, unused, like something you grew too thick to wear before you even managed to try it on. Their pristine condition taunts you.
Into these conditions you are forced to celebrate, again and again. You’re already battered from all the times you’ve been asked what you are thankful for, knowing full well that the asker expects you to say “family and friends” regardless of how often you disappoint them. But, over the food you cooked (that your children hate) in the house you can’t afford to fix because even the money you failed to make was needed elsewhere, you give thanks for all those things because it’s the right thing to do. And now before you know it, it’s time to send cards, letters, and gifts to all those people.
You see, the end of the year has come, and it is time to have an accounting of every measure of your worth both literally and figuratively–to them, to the government coffers, perhaps even to your God. And not everyone makes it out the other side of this process.
I know people (some very recent) who have lost people, and so do you. That number really never goes down over time, does it? But when it is their first Christmas without those people I have heard them say that all they want is to have them back. Some say it annually for decades. If the Salvation Army had a nickel for every time someone wished it, they’d never need to ring another bell near another kettle ever again.
You might not have realized it, but I give you all that gift every Christmas, that still being here. And let me tell you, some years that present is damn tricky to come by. I have to look HARD. My demons wait at the winter solstice like a hulking bully at the bike racks after school, and I always find myself being taken aback at how hard it hits and how little good steeling myself for it does me. It’s put me in the hospital. It’s put me on bed rest. Even now I know (oh, how I know!) that Christmas is coming and I am woefully unready. Some days I can barely keep myself together much less prepare me the way. Soon there will be fifteen or more people at our house to celebrate and I do not know where to put them because someone put the guy with chronic depression and social anxieties on the party planning board. Bad human resources management, in my opinion.
But nonetheless, I’ll have that present here again this year. I got it used, and parts of it are in bad shape, and I’m not even convinced people even want it. Maybe it’s just become tradition and people are too kind to say otherwise. Besides, no refunds or exchanges. Store policy.
If it’s any consolation, I promise to start looking for it even earlier next year. Still, you should know that I make that promise every year and I rarely stick to it. Some years I don’t even start making a real commitment to it until a day or two before Christmas.
So there you go. I hope that doesn’t spoil the surprise this year. Just remember–it’s the thought that counts, right?