Yesterday I took a ride into the city: lights and more lights, a glittering waste of precious energy, forgetting the money throw away on presents, and the lost time spent on the impossible task of fitting any one purchase to any one person. I wondered who had started all this? Probably some greed ridden shop where nothing sold for the year, and they needed some last minute effort to save the year.
Childhood. So odd to think that I was ever a child. So long ago. I held a belief in Santa Claus back then. Well, that was a different time. And then again that was not a time when I did the shopping; all the shopping was done for me. Well, not just for me, for my two brothers, and my sister; they were also part of the spree. My mom and dad did all the work. Did they enjoy those Christmases? They said they did, and one year there were sleight tracks and reindeer hoof marks. My father never explained how he had done it.
Ya, that was a time of magic. But that magic was nothing more than a child’s greed for new toys, and all kinds of food, and being treated special, and…
The first desperate beginning to Christmas was somewhere in the sixties, northern Vermont, and word came as my mother made a turkey soup from the leftover thanksgiving dinner. My brother, Des, was killed in action, in some place whose name I can no longer recall. That Christmas started out bleak. There was talk of not getting presents, of lights not being put up, or trees adorned. My father insisted that Des loved Christmas, and that all the chatter would be the complete opposite of what Des would have wanted.
I cannot remember a more sacred Christmas. The lights were all there, the tree, the presents. But there was something more. It was probably the last time that our entire family, with extended members, gathered for the Midnight Vigil. The red of Christmas was everywhere, bows and candles, scarves and hats, pins and broaches, all to signify the red heart of Christmas. All our family recognized who had given the greatest gift that year.
Of course things changed after that. The new progressive world took our family apart: My brother to Chicago, my sister to Boston, and I went off the Huston. The homestead stayed in Vermont, and there my mother passed away on a summer’s day, a woman in her middle age, but cancer knows no friend. That Christmas we all went to be with our father.
We talked among ourselves that it would be a difficult Christmas for dad, and we even told the children to be cognizant of his mood and demeanor.
It turned out to be the opposite of what we anticipated. The tree was adorned, the lights flashing, and presents where wrapped and underneath the tree. Dad explained that for him and our mom Christmas was a very special time of family and sharing, a time to allow abundance even if none existed, a time to proclaim love and compassion for the world. Dad added that one of the greatest gifts of family is tradition. The family allows one to belong, to be embraced by a common outpouring that might extend to all of humanity.
That Christmas was followed by many others where we gathered, rejoiced and renewed the grand ritual our family, now greatly extended, had come to embrace. My dad’s definition of family was anyone wanting to be a part of our tradition, so it was not uncommon to find new acquaintances singing along at the prerequisite carol session.
The anchor was of course our dad, and some years ago he passed away. The old homestead was soon sold off, and we siblings became busy with our personal lives, to where the ritual of gathering for Christmas was forgotten.
My two girls are married with young families of their own. Those kids have an abundance of toys all year long: play stations, x boxes, tablets, movies galore. I’m not sure anyone reads anymore.
I tend to shy away from the lights and all the pageantry, the greed as I see it. I insist that no one buy a present for me; it’s just a waste of money.
Then just this morning, something very strange happened. Two little monkeys showed up at my door. One of the little monkeys has a gleam in his eye, one that I often saw in my father’s eye when he was especially happy, as when we gathered for the holidays. This little monkey handed me a package as did the other, her tiny curls just like my daughter when she was at her age.
I opened up the packages, and each had the same message. “Our mother told us you need to come to our place for Christmas dinner. Your sister and brother will be there, as will many more who want to, if only for a short while, change how we view the world.”
Perhaps Christmas has not changed at all. Perhaps it has been only me.