The other day, someone asked me, "What are you doing for Christmas?"
"Nothing much," I answered. "Probably sleeping in."
They looked vaguely scandalized. "You’re not going to spend it with your family?"
"No," I said. "My family doesn’t really do Christmas."
"You aught to do something," my friend said, then wandered away.
This whole conversation left me thinking about Christmas and the things we do for it.
When I was a kid, Christmas was a big deal. It was never a religious holiday in my family; it was a time for getting and giving presents, for waking up at the butt-crack of dawn and rushing into the living room to tear open carefully wrapped packages to get to the goodies inside.
Of course, as time went on, Christmas changed. We stopped getting up at dawn to open presents. We’d get up later and later. Over the course of time, the number of presents beneath the tree dropped as well. And gifts were less fun and more practical. Socks. Sweaters. That sort of thing. After presents we would go to my grandparents’ house for a big dinner.
When I was eighteen and moved away, I spent my first Christmas without family. However, I wasn’t lonely. I was living with a nice family in Virginia and they included me in their celebrations.
Later, when I moved into my first apartment - which I shared with two other guys - I had the dubious pleasure of buying my first Christmas tree. It was a four-foot-tall tabletop tree on sale at K-Mart and it bore more than a passing resemblance to the tree from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Nevertheless, we set it up on the coffee table in the living room and bought some cheap decorations. When it was done, the roommates retreated to their bedrooms and I stepped onto the balcony for a cigarette.
It was a warm December that year and windy to boot. I didn’t think about the wind until I heard a thump and turned to see our Christmas tree blown off the table and rolling across the floor like a festive tumbleweed. That was the last time we had a Christmas tree in the apartment.
Later, when I moved to Alaska and had my very own solo apartment, I pondered what to do for Christmas. The thought of buying a tree seemed more like a burden than a pleasure. I didn’t have a lot of room and didn’t want to have to bother with storing the tree after the season was over. In all honesty, I never even considered a live tree.
Instead, I did something which became a Christmas tradition for me. On a whim, I went out and bought a sheet of brown butchers’ paper. Taking it home, I drew the outline of a Christmas tree on it in dark green Magic Marker and taped it to my apartment wall. When friends came over, I’d hand them a box of markers and tell them to draw an ornament on the tree. It was a surprising hit with my friends and at the end of the season, I could just take the tree off the wall, roll it up and toss it into the trash. No muss, no fuss.
After a few years, though, I stopped doing even this. Christmas was just another day to me. And, really, what was the point of putting up a tree and decking the halls? I was working nights and, over time, my social life had pretty much atrophied. Some years, I did exchange presents with friends but not very often. Christmas was just a bother.
Now, I’m sitting in my living room, which is pretty much devoid of any Christmas presence. These days, Christmas doesn’t make me particularly festive. It seems to be all about traffic and crowded stores and exhausted parents trudging from place to place to satisfy their children’s greed.
Honestly? I don’t usually feel festive until after New Year’s Eve. I suppose it’s all about the release of pressure.
However, this year, I have noticed I’m feeling a bit more Christmas-y than usual. I’ve been listening to some Christmas carols and have even decorated the windows of my townhouse. I’ve got a merry old Santa Clause on one and a Christmas tree with ornaments and presents on the other. Granted, they’re those cheap little window appliques you can buy at the dollar store, but at least I’ve got something up. The other night I listened to a version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and thoroughly enjoyed it.
So, I suppose, the Christmas spirit is slowly starting to seep back into my life. Maybe in a few years, I’ll have a big, live Christmas tree in my living room, decorated with strings of popcorn and velvety, red balls. Perhaps the house will smell like cinnamon and spruce. Maybe there’ll be Christmas music playing from my CD player.
Somehow, though, I doubt it.
I’ll probably decorate the window and listen to some carols. Usually, I watch the Albert Finney musical version of Scrooge and order pizza. I don’t think that’ll change in the future. But if it does, if Christmas becomes a bigger event for me, I’ll welcome it.
Christmas changes for us as we get older. It becomes something different. We reinvent it to satisfy ourselves; we start our own traditions.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Sure, there are people who will decry that the day is becoming more secular and less religious, but I think that the core of the day will remain untouched.
Christmas is about giving. It’s about generosity of spirit.
And we could all use a little more of that these days. Couldn’t we?
So, merry Christmas, gentle readers, however you may celebrate. May you get the things that you want and, hopefully, the things that you need as well.