“It’s coming on Christmas. they’re cutting down trees
Putting up lots of reindeer,
Singing songs of joy and peace …”
Joni Mitchell’s melodic memoir of feeling lonely at Christmas remains one of the great unappreciated holiday tunes of all time. For all the fa la la la las, blinking colored lights and parties over the next three weeks or so, there’s always been an almost-equal amount of occurance of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.”
December is the time to don our gay apparel, but there are many people who don’t feel all that ski-hip-happy, especially in this fifth year of the Great Recession. Things are improving, sure, but slowly, and not everyone is looking toward the New Year with optimistic delight.
I think part of the reason that the Christmas season carries such mixed feelings for people is its proximity to the end of the year. The end of December not only brings you some of the bills you racked up during the shopping season, but also a realization that you are a year older and not necessarily a year richer, smarter or happier.
Another year in which you didn’t win an Oscar, score the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, or finish your Great Novel. The lines stare back at you in the mirror. Don’t squint, it only makes you look older.
So Jim, what is this? An early dose of “Bah, Humbug!”? Another mid-life crisis? Indigestion?
No, what I was thinking about is how much Christmas and New Year are about traditions and customs, and how some make us feel better and some not.
Good tradition: Giving money or time or food to the less fortunate. Even the most cynical (Dick Cheney, I’m talking to you) have to admit that giving makes you feel good. It’s tough not to, just as it’s difficult not to smile at a picture of a sleeping puppy.
Not-so-good: Comparing your Christmas decorations to the other people on your block. For a holy day (the root of the word “holiday”) less is more. Garish, blinking, bright lights and inflated Santas are not exactly signs of spiritual depth. There’s nothing wrong with having audioanimatronic reindeer on your roof, but somehow I think that Mary and Joseph would have felt better about stopping at a place with a single, elegant wreath on the door.
Good tradition: Gathering together with family and friends (and pets). Lots of warm, fattening food and sparking libations (but not too many libations). A few games, some singing and everyone leaves by 10.
Not-so-good tradition: Gathering together with certain family and “friends.” Too much exotic food (asparagus souffle, jumping bean dip) and dark brown liquid from Kentucky. Yelling, insults, broken glass and the police arriving around 10.
Good tradition: Taking a moment to count your blessings for the year gone by, and to plan adventures for the new year. “Later on, we’ll conspire/As we dream by the fire….”
Not-so-good tradition: Raking up all the disappointments, letdowns, reversals, bad luck and bad decisions of the past 12 months. Nurturing your guilt and anger. Worrying that the New Year will probably be worse …
Good tradition: Buying gifts (regardless of the price) for people you care about, and presenting them with a sincere hug and a smile.
Not-so-good tradition: Buying gifts you can’t afford in order to impress someone you don’t like anyway and who’s probably going to return it because you have no idea what they really like.
Good tradition: Having a home-y local newspaper to read and follow all the holiday happenings going in your area.
Not so good tradition: Trying to get your holiday enjoyment out of watching somebody else party on a television show.