It’s the day after Christmas and I spent most of yesterday in bed, napping, and feeling like total crap with a sore throat. I have a cold. Whatever. The thing is, and it’s important that you know this, I had a marvelous Christmas anyway. I may scrooge my way through the inevitable (and slightly disproportionate) build up to Christmas which makes everyone who has no money, barely enough food or clothes, and bad family situations feel worse than they do for the rest of the entire year…but in the end I do really look forward to Christmas.
In my town there are plenty of houses with those queer little signs that say “Put the CHRIST back in CHRISTmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season!” but it is, in spite of these sweet little efforts, largely a secular holiday now. Which I believe it started off as in the first place though I know there may be some vehement argumentation to be had on that point. I’m not a Pagan or a Wiccan even remotely, nor am I a Druid or a Satanist, or any other “ist” of any kind. I’m not really an atheist* or even necessarily an agnostic, but I do celebrate Christmas with my family.
Does it really matter if Christmas used to be something other than the highly disputed birth of a messiah? For those to whom that belief is treasured and meaningful there will always be a Christ in Christmas. For those of a more pagan persuasion it will always have more of a lunar meaning. For Jews it is a day to go to the movies.
For me it’s a day to simply be with family and to enjoy whatever abundance there is in our life. It’s a day to spoil my kid if I can afford to. It’s a day to celebrate how we get through the winter months with the help of friends and family as well as community. It’s a day to recognize that we all need each other. It’s a day to seek warmth and shelter wherever it can be found. It’s a day to stop, to really STOP, and just be.
Our family rituals around holidays are few, this is likely because as a family of people with OCD we have to be careful how many extra rituals (burdens) we add to our lives. We keep it simple. While the rest of the world executes wildly elaborate family Christmas Eve dinners, we go out to eat. (My jewish dad reminded me that Christmas Eve to Jews is a night to go out to get Chinese food- if only there were any good Chinese places here in our town!!). This year we went driving around to see Christmas lights and marvel at the trouble others will go to to display their christmas spirit- also how willing people are to pay for amazingly inflated electric bills!
I’m thankful I don’t have to figure out how to fold up all those light displays- we had a pair of lighted reindeer one year and that nearly killed me with anxiety.
Christmas to me is also a celebration of winter. I have a couple of friends who love winter as much as I do, but we are very few. Winter is cleansing. It’s a time of inward evaluation, of hibernation, of rest. In a way it’s like the earth’s great gestational period, which sounds rather gross, but underneath the stripped landscape cells are dividing everywhere, life is quietly building, invisibly growing in the hush.
I love winter. Christmas is the only real holiday that punctuates winter. If Christ had never been born, if Christianity had never burst over the landscape, we’d still have Christmas. People need it. They need to remember, when the leaves have left the trees bare, when the icy rains are pelting them sideways, when the snows have buried their gardens, they need to remember that this is the time to meditate before spring comes to crush them with rainbows. They need to be around people they love and do something festive to get through the dark.
I like Christmas. I like the lights of Christmas because it is a happy and hopeful display in a landscape peculiarly appropriate for showing off lights.
The religious AND commercial pummeling during this holiday, the ridiculous sappy stories that most people delight in, the egregiously aggressively “happy” entertainment that beat at this holiday like it’s a sad small beast not good enough unless it can do something impossible like perform miracles- this I can do without. These things pound at me mercilessly until I start sounding like Bukowski sitting through a live production of Dora the Explorer. Pass the bottle and let’s rip that damn backpack off and see if she’s saved enough money to place a bet at the races!
That is all reaction. That is all sour displeasure at people needing so much more all the time that it isn’t enough to just celebrate in whatever way is meaningful for each of us individually and quietly. I guess people just need that. They need there to always be more MORE MORE. It seems so greedy to need to have so MUCH meaning packed into one holiday.
I have to remind myself that I have no way to filter other people out. My ability to shut other people out of my head is broken. I have come to understand that part of being mentally ill in the way that I am means that I hear the world as though it’s constantly shouting through amplifiers. It makes me extra sensitive to all the shouting out of JOY/DOGMA/MYTH/SORROW/HOMELESSNESS/ABUSE/POVERTY/HOPE/and EXPECTATION. For most people you just filter out the parts you don’t like and you move on. Who cares?
The psychic noise is insanely loud for the whole month of December. So I gripe, I try to counterbalance it all with the other side, the other thoughts, the other possibilities, and in some way make it quiet or make it all shut up so I can just enjoy myself.
The truth is, I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s experience of the holiday. If Christmas to you is a beautiful commemoration of your religious beliefs then I am happy for you to carry on with your personal way of celebrating that. If Christmas to you is a time to celebrate the cycles of the earth and the moon then why would I want to spoil that for you? I don’t. If Christmas is simply a time to retell peculiar stories and myths about characters I find disturbing- I don’t really care- it’s part of what makes you all kind of weirder than me!
I spent most of my Christmas day in bed, napping, but my morning was wonderful. I just hung out with my small family and we enjoyed our own version of generosity, good will, and fun. I got to hear my kid say “Sweet! Books!” when he opened a present full of books from his Aunt. He seems to appreciate home made gifts just as much as he appreciates getting video games and Legos. He had the grace to even be excited to get pencil sharpeners in his stocking which was mama’s little joke (I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for things like pencil sharpeners).
We got a set of hot water bottles with hand knitted cozies from my good friend Taj which she insisted we open as soon as we got them a few weeks ago and Max LOVES them. A ten year old stoked to get AND USE hot water bottles? My kid cup is over flowing.
Max made me a set of comics for Christmas. All very violent, of course, but his stick figure art gets more detailed and expressive every day and his pride and joy and seriousness in making comics for me for Christmas, his intense desire to make me something “good” for Christmas without once wondering or wishing he had enough money to buy me something- this is like the best Christmas present ever. My kid is so far from perfect, he’s such a tough kid to parent at times, and yet nothing on this earth could make me wish to have a different kid than I do. He is absolutely perfect for us.
Max, like most kids, is insanely excited about Christmas. For the gifts. He loves the presents. As long as I have money to buy him some of the things he loves best I don’t see anything wrong with loving gifts. It doesn’t sully Christmas to me that Max wants Legos and video games. Not as long as he continues to get excited by hot water bottles with hand-knit cozies. Not as long as he can get just as excited about new books to read. In our family it’s okay to go minimal, to do what you can afford, to re-gift things, to make things to your personal level of ability. No gift is scorned.
I had a marvelous Christmas. I felt like total crap and even as we speak I’ve moved into the head cold portion of the sickness, with the chest cold to follow I’m sure. But I’m happy. I don’t know where we’ll be living next year. I don’t know what our situation will be. I can’t predict if we’ll both still have jobs next year. All I can do is enjoy that right now we have heat on in our house when we want it, we had a very provident Christmas considering that we’re a bit low budget (even Max knew he would only get presents within a certain budget), and each other.
I hope all of you had a great Christmas too, no matter what that means to you!
*Well, I most closely resemble an Atheist I suppose. I figure I must be because I 100% agree with the weirdly controversial essay written by Ricky Gervais on why he’s an atheist. Why it should be controversial to explain your atheist views but not be controversial to explain your religious views completely mystifies me. What’s refreshing to me is that few public figures make any statements about their atheism while many public figures make statements about their faiths. Nice to hear from an atheist for once! Perhaps it’s ridiculous of me to waffle between Atheism and Agnosticism. Perhaps I should just pick a lane and drive. Something to think about while I sniffle and cough my way through the last week of the year.
If Ricky Gervais had written an essay all about his Jewish beliefs I’m pretty sure he would not have gotten any shit. People would have just been kind of surprised to discover he’s Jewish. When Christians come proselytizing at your door if you tell them you’re not interested because you’re Jewish they politely offer you a booklet on their faith and disappear. If you tell them you are an atheist they don’t accept this as a legitimate belief and consider you meat for the saving. I know because I’ve tried both tacks. Not having any belief in God seems to be the most threatening thing of all to people of every faith, it is worse than believing in a different god or several gods. Atheists are worse, it seems, and more evil than Satanists. It’s fascinating. Why should anyone’s lack of religious belief shake your own? Furthermore, if you want respect from an atheist or an agnostic for your faith you might start by respecting their own beliefs.