There are two great truths about me when it comes to Christmas. The first truth is that I’ve never been fond of this time of year. The second truth is that as I’ve gotten older I’ve masked it well, except to those closest to me, with an abundance of planning and prep work. At least this second one was true until 2011. All that prep and planning I had done all year came to a screeching halt in October. In the day or two after Keith passed away, I reached into my closet to pull out all the gifts, still unwrapped, and quietly handed them out. There didn’t seem to be any need to dress it up. None of us felt it. I had a tool bag embroidered with his name on it and handed it to Brandon, unsure if it was truly a gift or some dark inheritance that never touched his father’s hands. I had a matching tool bag made for my dad, also with his name embroidered on it. I had visions of the two of them, diligently working away on installing equipment for the company they both worked for as they both carried their matching tool bags with only the names on them to keep it straight. My first Christmas spent without Keith was spent planning his memorial service that took place just 4 days later and I tackled it with my usual planning and prep, if for no other reason than to keep busy. I even went Christmas shopping for a new dress – black, mind you – to wear to the service and to sit shiva. The Klinglesmiths threw their usual Christmas Eve bash which has always been the pinnacle of the festivities every year. The one event I’d relish regardless of my given scrooge status from year to year. And if not for being in their presence with all that awesome Klinglesmith vibe that they carry with them always, I fear that I may have grinched out on an epoch scale and done a whole lot more than take the who-hash. All the Who-firefighters in Whoville couldn’t stop that who-fire.
But I survived. And survived the Christmas of 2012 with a little glimmer of planning and prep by having quilts made for the kids out of Keith’s tee shirts. And watched both nieces’ Christmas concerts with delight. And attended another Klinglesmith rocking-eve bash. Just like how I survived all those years ago, when the angst of the holidays became the norm for me sometime in my late teens. I stopped analyzing the “why” or “how” of this annual funk. There have been so many magical moments over the years that I did embrace. My parents were the supreme superheros at surprises almost every year that I’m convinced they were hired by Santa as consultants. I credit my mother for leading the charge on planning and prep. She would wrap magnificent presents with elaborate bows that almost – I say almost – made you want to leave them wrapped up. My father knew how to create yule tide ambiance like none other. The house was filled with the scent of pine and fresh baked cookies while Christmas songs filled the house from Dad’s reel-to-reel player. Back then, before the age of digital music, it was the only way to get 8 hours of play time without a song repeating. We had this nativity scene carved out of the darkest wood and a yule log my parents made. My brother and I would go out into the woods to collect crow’s feet to fill it.
So imagine my surprise, now that I’ve reached my mid-life Christmas crisis, that I find I’m feeling something different this year. Something that is erasing those two great truths. I’m not grooving on the grinch and I’m not looking over my shoulders to see if those Christmas ghost are going to finally catch up to me this year. I’m also not doing any planning. I haven’t done any prep. I was briefly inspired to put together a few photo presents but as I started to root around in my digital image library, I got the brilliant idea to organize them instead. So now my photo program is jammed up doing a sort command and I can’t even see those darn photos. And you know what? That’s just fine. Christmas will not be tied to purse strings, shopping lists, decking the halls, hustling and bustling. All I really want is to selfishly give myself my own gift – I just want to be in the presence of the people I love. I want to see them smile, bask in their joys and silently share their sorrows. I want to hear that idle chit-chat around the table about days gone by while children run and play and start weaving their own tales here and now to share with their children when they are older and hopefully less tainted than I, at their own Christmas of their own making.
And I’m realizing right now why this is different. I’ve had Christmas already. At Thanksgiving with my family in my parents’ new home in South Carolina. We sat by the fire and watched movies. I shared the ride down with my father and son as they chatted about mathematics and statistics and the science of space and soil. My youngest niece decorated her face with rhinestones and eventually, two of them made their way to my boots. I still walk around with a little silver gem on the toe of each foot. My uncle deep fried his famous turkey and talked about hunting, showing off a gun he recently restored. My mother covered the house with magnolia leaves and candles. My brother and I kept sneaking into the kitchen for turkey sandwiches and her famous sweet potato pie. My cousins joined my son and I to watch a beautiful indie film filled with imagery. My sister-in-law kept us on the edge of our seats with her fandom while watching the football game. All the kids piled onto a gate and we grownups took turns swinging it back and forth to give them a ride. The morning of Thanksgiving, I ran around with the camera and uploaded the images for all the family to see.
There is was – Christmas. As it should be. Which means I’m off the hook for my lack of planning – right? Maybe I’ll go shopping tomorrow just for the rush of it. Now if I can figure out how to skype the Klinglesmiths tomorrow so it will be like I’m there this year, I’d have it made. And for Christmas day, my son and I will carry out the age old Jewish tradition of eating Chinese. Any one want to join us? Last minute? No planning or prep necessary – and yes, Cherish, there is a Santa Claus – its a wonderful life – and we can all have a Miracle on 34th street. If we can let go, let it happen, and just live in the moment and spirit of the season.