Christmas is an interesting time of the year for me. I enjoy witnessing, and being part of, the general confusion, especially the closer it gets to December 25. Sitting at my favorite coffee shop, enjoying a break in the day with a hot cup of coffee, I often derive an almost perverse pleasure listening to the near panic in the voices of people who cannot find that absolutely perfect gift for so-and-so, or who bemoan that their loved ones won’t get everything on their wish lists.
It isn’t that I revel in their stress, of course; it’s more a matter of wondering how they deal with the major issues in life if this is how they deal with simple matters. And then I remember that the only difference between them and me is that I rarely vocalize my near-panic over the same gift issues. Whenever I have bought a gift for my wife, for any occasion, I’ve never been convinced that it was nearly good enough for her; that I’m somehow a lesser being because I can’t get everything on everybody’s wish lists; that they will be disappointed.
Point of order, your honor – the panic is rarely justified.
But, back to Christmas, allow me a slightly humorous aside: In fact, I don’t give Christmas gifts to anyone. Many years ago, when my sons were fairly young, I went into a joking tirade about the commercialization of Christmas. That the day only exists to support the economy by feeding greed. “That’s it,” I announced in my best Ebeneezer voice, “Any gifts I already bought are going back to the store. I refuse to be part of this nonsense!”
The boys giggled and my wife gave me the patient, tolerating smile she perfected decades ago. But on Christmas morning, when the gifts where handed out, there weren’t any gifts from me. Not one gaily wrapped package had a tag with my name at the “from” space. No, instead, Zack received gifts from Jimmy Buffet and B.B. King; Jon had packages from Adam Sandler and Steven Jobs; my wife got hers from George Clooney and Elton John.
“But, Dad,” one of the boys exclaimed, “That’s your handwriting on the tags!”
“Leave me alone!” I barked. “They dropped off the gifts and were in a rush, so they asked me to do the tags for them. I’m trying to be the nice guy here, so stop bothering me!”
Celebrities returned the next year, and every year since. At this point the joke is time-worn, but I know that to stop it would not be appreciated. And, frankly, as someone who deals with a certain degree of Seasonal Affective Disorder, the silliness of the joke helps my mood. Win-win.
Two days ago, the celebrities returned. How wonderful that my family is so highly thought of by Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, Ellen Degeneres, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to name but four. And how sad that after all these years, my loved ones still get nothing from me.
As hokey as it may sound, the best part for me is the pleasure of being with my family. I have more-than-justified pride in my wife, my sons, and my daughter-in-law. These are people who inspire me daily, and who remind me what are the really important in things in life. But more about family and what they remind me of in a future post.
The saddest part about Christmas, for me, is how it shuts off like a switch. Beginning at least six weeks earlier, and each year it begins sooner, there are seemingly endless ads, commercials, product and store e-mails, promotions, and music on the radio all of which are Christmas-centric. But the day after Christmas the music stops, as do the ads, commercials, e-mails, and promotions (after a brief flurry of after-Christmas bargains), and we’re left with the cold winter and long, dark nights. Which, for someone who deals with a certain amount of Seasonal Affective Disorder, is unwelcome and a little disorienting.
But with the darkness of winter, which permeates my soul, comes the realization that with having passed the winter solstice, each day pushes back sunset by a little bit. And, like Camus, I recognize that deep within me is an invincible summer.