Two nights ago my wife and I set up and decorated our Christmas tree. It's skinny and sparse artificial number my wife got for $12 at a post-holiday sale at Target. After we were done stringing the lights and hanging the ornaments, I put on the soundtrack to Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown and sat on the couch with my wife and our dog and stared at the tree. This is a favorite past time of mine. For as long as I can remember I have spent many an evening during the holidays sitting or laying on a couch and gazing intently at the Christmas tree. More often than not my mom and hot chocolate would be involved, but there was always something about it that was more than just a familial appreciation of the holiday. I could really lose myself in in the deep green and radial halos of pink and orange and blue and yellow. Staring at the lights even brought a tinge of pain, like looking directly at a flashlight, but not so immediate and not so bright. Just a tiny, far off reminder that this is not something one should do for very long; but I honestly think I would have done it forever if I could have. At that moment, nothing was more important or more desired. The nutcracker, hung in the same place every year from its thin thread of gold, spun a quarter turn toward the wall, stolid and smiling, floats frozen near the end of its branch. Motionless, but seemingly alive in the pink-red glow reflecting off of the ornament's waxy sheen, it hangs before the yawning cavern of dark and green, alone in the space between the branches. The times in front of the tree I remember most are from my years in high school and when coming back from college. Those were times in which my identity was slipping and my future was nothing if not unclear. The tree was home and innocence and knowing, or, at least, not needing to know anything else. Those are the nights I felt like I could never move. If the outside world had stopped moving and needing, I would be happy to stay in the warm glow of the lights and the branches. I would live with the nutcracker and the macaroni angel just above, bathed in sharp spokes of softly burning orange. So then, to the present, with me and my wife and our dog in front of our beloved anemic artificial tree. I stare at the lights, all white this time, and watch the halos rest on holiday baubles, some nostalgic, some just pretty. The music add another level of memories, but, as always, it is the tree that holds my attention. I find myself thinking, what is it about this tree that makes me feel this way? By and large, Christmas trees are probably a waste of electricity and, to be honest, trees, why should I be so moved? The answer, of course, is the memory. The tree represents the holidays and it represents family. And it is this answer that leads me to what I've been thinking about today. Christmas. I'm at work this Christmas, my wife is at a friend's house enjoying their family's celebration and the members of my extended family are all in other states. The person I'm working with today is of Jewish heritage so today doesn't mean much...other than it is a day in which he must deal with most around him talking about Christmas, for him and many others this is a Friday. And to be matter of fact, it is a Friday. Neither I nor my wife are Christian so our celebration of Christmas is mostly the recreation of the holiday traditions of our childhood. And even for those who are Christian, Christmas is what it is because of tradition. No one really knows when Jesus was born. So, what makes Dec. 25th Christmas? Well, like I said before, tradition. This is the first year since moving to California that my wife and I are not celebrating with our families and I realized that, when it is just my wife and I, we alone are responsible for our Christmas. This might sound obvious, but it comes as a bit of a shock. If we had not chosen to set up a tree and give gifts, I would not have seen a Christmas tree this year. Walking to work this morning I thought about the many thousands of people who have never celebrated Christmas...they wouldn't feel anything special about this day anymore than someone born in March would feel special on my birthday. Easter, Valentine's Day, these days mean little to nothing to me as an adult. These too are days arbitrarily regarded as special because of long-standing tradition. So why do I feel like I should feel differently about Christmas? It's about family, and eating, and gathering people together in one place and enjoying the fact that we've all lived our lives for one more year and are here again to remember all the other years we've done this. It's about remembering that you have a family and that, even if its something some feel they are supposed to do, many people, all at once, feel that being friendly and giving to others is something worth doing. Writing from work it is always easy to slip in to the more depressed and introspective as I am left to wonder why on earth I am here on this or any day, but cynicism and confusion can't stop the fact that I love hearing John Denver sing with the Muppets because that's what my family and I always did and I wish to whatever it is that has say in these things that I could do that today.
John Lennon once wrote "So, this is Christmas, and what have you done?" I would like to alter this quote to "It's Christmas, what are you doing?" The answer may be nothing or eating or watching two dogs meet a new one. It doesn't matter what day it is, just do what makes you feel right and what you think is right. I feel very grateful that I can spend the holidays with my wife and our dog and hope that everyone has someone with which to spend a special day, whenever that day may be.
Merry Christmas and all the best in the new year.
---------------------------------------- "Alfie the Christmas Tree" from John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. I've never been entirely convinced that he short "Alfie" monologue delivered by Denver makes complete sense. It's either a pantheistic plea for the recognition of brotherhood amongst all people and nature or a tree worried that non-Christians don't know about love...I'm pretty sure it's the first one, but it's worded in a fairly confusing manner to keep its poetic flow...but the monologue is not the part that I care about, it's the song tacked on to the end. As far as I can tell it's titled "It's in Every One of Us". I haven't been able to find definitively who wrote or sang this song first, but I've heard it in various places. The first though, was on the Muppets record. It was and is my family's favorite holiday album. I grew up singing along with this song and it still means a great deal to me. My mom used to say how much she loved it nearly every time I sang it. This year, while I was washing the dishes on Christmas Eve and listening to A Christmas Together, this song came on and I cried.
(sorry for the kind of creepy close up video of John Denver...I couldn't find an audio only version...just close your eyes)