Wednesday, December 23, 2009

That's What I Want For Christmas

I look on in utter amazement as, had she actually read the previous post regarding Peace On Earth, the Wife says (which she hasn’t said but would) that it wasn’t heartwarming enough.

Apparently the Wife’s heart is a wee bit of coal, as I thought the entire piece absolutely brimmed with the best of mankind’s aspirations.

What does Christmas mean to me then? Well, understand this: I grew up poor, and when you grow up poor Christmas is never about what you wanted, it’s about what you got. I wanted a guitar; I never got it; I came to learn to be happy with what I had.

I remember one Christmas Daddy was out of work. My teenaged brothers and sister took it on themselves to see that we younger ones had presents. Six kids in the family total. I was about 9. Christmas morning, I run to the living room to see what’s in the 2 packages for me. A bag of army men and a box of Life Savers candy. Army men, cool. Had this been a Hallmark Channel movie, I’d have hugged folks and thankfully cried, “Best Christmas ever!” I looked at the Life Savers, I looked at my sister (who’d bought the Life Savers and rather than cover her tracks wrote on the label ‘to Clarence from Deb’), I blinked several times (I remember this) and I remember thinking (because I had just learned what the word meant) If it’s the thought that counts she must have amnesia. Life Savers. I didn’t even particularly like Life Savers. I’d always accidentally eat the butterscotch flavor thinking it was pineapple. Gag!

So I berated her. My sister had kicked my ass on several occasions so it’s not like she cared that I berated her; she’d kick my ass later. But I clearly remember being disappointed in myself that morning. She’d bought for me and my brothers what she could afford. I wasn’t a completely stupid kid, so I realized later that day and even more so in the days immediately after that my sister had sacrificed her own in order to get me something when she didn’t--as a sister or as a person period--have to. In that act of sacrifice was a small request: not to jump up and down and sing her praises, but to acknowledge that she had sacrificed and be genuinely appreciative.

The world has become a very unappreciative, mean place.

The world is a 9 year old child. An entire generation looks befuddled now at the entire concept of sacrifice. They’re even called The Entitlement Generation. Sacrifice is not subtracted from others, it is given to them, this generation of youth. One can almost imagine the entire generation thinking ‘I didn’t ask to be born, you brought me here so treat me as an exalted guest.’

Me, I call them the Hotel Generation, for whom Life comes with room service and tipping (i.e. reciprocity/generosity) is a city in China. They’re the twenty-somethings who laugh when they’re with friends about what their parents got them for Christmas. They view anything outside of what they are immediately prepared to do at that moment as unconscionable work. All praise to the exceptions, but most of y’all, most of y’all ain’t worth Christmas.

…but that’s where the 9 year old kid in me realizes he’s wrong. Me and the Wife watch the Albert Finney version of Scrooge every Christmas Eve. It’s a tired old beat up VHS tape but it brings two people who are very much in love to a pretty place each time. When Finney sings “I hate people!” I think happily, dammit, that’s me! Then it sinks in: that’s me.


“I abhor them,” sings Finney.

But aren’t they what Christmas is all about?

I don’t want to sing that song.

Christ had no interest in gift giving unless it was of the self. Modern man counters, ‘No, it’s the thought that counts.’

Kmart makes Christmas count. Sigh...

Christ had no interest in becoming a cult of personality. All those people bent out of shape over “happy holidays” versus “merry Christmas” should step back a minute and read the bumper sticker on the car that just cut them off for the mall parking space: Jesus Is The Reason For The Season. Which means 'Don't make me a rock star, live by what I represent.' Me, I love the pageantry, camaraderie and excess of “the season” for what it is: a Dionysian orgy of release and redemption. I keep that quite separate from celebrating Christ’s teachings and ways. Same as I celebrate the Buddha’s teachings and ways. I try to live it. Granted I can’t stand most people, but given a choice between me and somebody else running into a burning building to rescue you, you’re better off with me. Trust me.

Christmas is about truth. Truth burns away all falsehoods. Takes time sometimes but it does. That’s what all good teachers do; they first reassure us that truth exists, then show us certain truths they themselves have found, then invite us to seek the deeper truth of ourselves. Jesus, during his time, would’ve been exposed to Greek and Roman philosophy, to the ancient teachings of central Asia that traveled southward even through Egypt, to the Koran, to all the precepts of the Jewish faith. And definitely to mid and lower African theology. Whether you adhere to the Son of God part or not, I imagine he would have been a smart man. Would’ve had to have been, because smart men motivate change; stupid men generate chaos. From what I gather he was about benign interior change, so my opinion is stupid men foisted the Bible and the Gospels on cultures at large as political tracts rather than teaching tools because stupid men tend to be greedy and greed needs a cowed populace to feed its coffers. But that’s just me fighting the power. We all know that modern Christmas is a hodge podge of various pagan rites and Judean doctrine; no need to berate the point. Let us not pretend as we move into 2010 (the future!) that Christ is not a minor portion of Christmas in the first place. When Dickens wrote 'A Christmas Carol' he decried Christmas's utter crass commercialism even then, and that was what, 8 centuries ago? (Yes, I know not that long ago, but point is...)

Point is, when I was 9 I saw what I was doing. I realized I was being an ass. I could’ve stayed selfish, and continue even now to be selfish, but truth was Deb had done something cool for me.

I thanked her later that day.

I think she punched me. We were like that.

Christmas, for this Michigan boy, means cold mornings, the smell of a freshly watered tree (kids are master gardeners at Christmastime; the Christmas tree--we didn’t have one when I was 9 but the times we did have a live tree were glorious--as sacred gathering place of the presents, had to be maintained at all costs; we’d argue to see who got to water the tree because that meant getting up close and personal to the boxes and wrappers with your name on them); Christmas means the sound of Ma opening the kitchen curtains that meant it was time to get up; being thought of, because presents--regardless of my snarky adolescent brain--are thoughts one way or another and being thought of means you are appreciated--again, one way or another--in the eyes of another. Christmas is the Wife being thrilled not by a diamond necklace or gold spatula (which she doesn’t want and I wouldn’t buy) but by getting to sleep in and finally coming downstairs decked out in fuzzy robe and slippers with her hair looking crazy. Christmas is Ma, who lives with us, trying her best to sneak in early and get to her presents. We call Ma our Christmas Mouse. Christmas is the nephew cooking up some mac and cheese from his ma’s recipe. Deb died from cancer years ago. I think about her every day. Not always fondly, but we were like that. There were many times I wanted to wring her neck.

Scrooge had a sister in the movie... and a nephew. Christ, as a teacher, shows us parallels.

I loved my sister. I hope my nephew honors her and himself all his days.

Christmas is about truth, and truth, well...

Truth means the world to me.