CONFESSIONS OF A DARK HORSE
December 23, 2009
I am sorry to say it, but as far as excitement over major holidays goes, Christmas isn’t really my thing.
I don’t have any objections to Christmas on religious or cultural grounds; in fact, I don’t really have any objections to Christmas at all. I think the protests by the sensibly secular in this great land of ours against the public celebration of Christmas are largely misguided expenditures of energy and emotion by basically well-meaning people who should put their earnest efforts into something of more practical value, like fighting world hunger or class divisions or economic disparity, or saving the rain forests.
Or, they can go fuck themselves, too. Whichever.
My vague disaffection with the holiday season is not based strictly on anti-commercialism, either. I don’t have a problem with the most of the “commercialization” of Christmas – in the generic sense, at least. In fact, I think the crassness of the season may well inadvertently reinforce the basic decency in most of us, and even cause us to consider, if briefly, moral values we might not think much about otherwise, at Christmas time, or any other time.
We go out shopping this time of year fight mind-numbing gridlock on the roads and the vehicular transgressions of other drivers in scary mall parking lots, and yet most of us seem to retain some basic good cheer; at least partly, I think, because we are reminded this time of year that it truly is better to give than to receive.
The tangled up traffic can promote road rage in some cases, but it also offers multiple opportunities to do something nice for a somebody – letting him or her cut in line; or yielding that parking spot you have been eyeing for five minutes and parking instead a half a block further away; or just holding open a door for some poor bastard loaded down with bags and packages.
The overcrowded stores we wade into are often stressful and irritating; but on the other hand, we cannot stay aloof in a crowded store for long, no matter how hard we might try. One cannot stand in a queue at Best Buy for two-and-a-half hours and not talk to one’s neighbors in line; and if they seem relatively bright and/or mentally stable, one might even get to know them a little bit, no matter who they are or what they look like. The neighborly conversation flows naturally, and even if the catalyst for it is simply to commiserate on the consistently shitty customer service one finds practically everywhere nowadays, you can only talk about that stuff for so long. Pretty soon you end up talking about other things, the weather, things you have in common, etc. That is the fun part. I sometimes find even a superficial conversation with a stranger in a long, slow-moving line will lower the blood pressure a bit, even make me feel a little better about the world, and maybe myself, too.
If you are like me, you get a little head rush out of doing something nice for or being nice to someone you don’t know, for no good reason. It is a pleasant feeling of well-being that just may have something to do with this ‘Christmas cheer’ one hears about this time of year.
So, I guess I have a positive feeling about Christmas, mostly. It is just that there are some celebrated cultural touchstones regarding the Christmas holidays I feel like I must have missed out on somehow.
I don’t like Christmas music much, for one thing. Some people I know get almost rapturous in late November or early December when they break out the Christmas music for the first time, digging out some Mannheim Steamroller CDs, a Pat Boone cassette or two, and, way in the back of the cabinet there, a scratchy old Harry Belafonte LP that has a great version of “Little Drummer Boy” on it.
Personally, I am indifferent to most traditional yuletide music. There are some non-traditional Christmas songs I kind of like. John Prine’s “Christmas in Prison” comes to mind, or maybe Springsteen and Little Steven and the E-Streeters doing “Merry Christmas, Baby.” At a holiday get-together once, I was asked what my favorite Christmas song was, and I blurted out, “Stranger in a Strange Land”. That brought some vacant stares. “You know, the Leon Russell song.” More incomprehension.
Listen to the lyrics sometime, is all I can say.
I don’t have strong nostalgic feelings for Christmases past as some seem to. I have good memories, but I think part of my problem has to do with growing up with not much extended family around who at least got along well enough to get together for the holidays. The concept of huge Norman Rockwell-ish family get-togethers, all of us sitting around the groaning board eating goose and brandied plums and bread pudding at Christmas-time does not resonate with me.
Probably another impediment to me connecting with the Christmas atmosphere is that I grew up in a sub-tropical climate. I have seen snow at Christmas exactly twice in my life, and I am sure people from snow country would have laughed at it, as it was mostly just a dusting. In fact, it was often warm and humid enough around Christmas time here to wear shorts and a T-shirt. When I was 14 we had a warm front come through off the Gulf of Mexico right before Christmas, 75-80 degrees and humid as hell, and in the course of helping get our house and grounds looking nice for holiday visitors, I actually had to go out and mow the fucking yard. . . because it was three days before Christmas, and the St. Augustine was still growing. I remember pushing this heavy old self-propelled Sears mower that didn’t self-propel around the yard, sweating my ass off, all the while singing, “Mow the (fucking) yard and trim the (goddamn) hedges/Fa la la la la, la la la la”.
So there you have it, the confessions of one Southeast Texas semi Grinch-like individual.
“When the baby looks around him
It’s such a sight to see
He shares a simple secret
With the wise man”
Well, I exaggerate a little. I’m not really a Grinch. In fact, I am kind of looking forward to Christmas this year.
Ed Wade and company seem intent on low-keying their way through the holidays, so far opting to put money down for stocking stuffers, rather than spending on any big ticket items. But there is always the chance they will surprise us. When I was a kid we’d look at the Sears toy catalog, and I’d secretly wish for about 2/3 of what was on every page. Nowadays, I am more realistic. All I want is a quality #2 starter, another solid bat for the lineup, and someone, anyone, above run-of-the-mill to emerge at catcher. That’s not asking for too much, is it?
My kids are ridiculously cheerful this time of year, of course, and act a bit more respectful toward their old man and his requests of them than usual. No doubt they have an idea in mind of not screwing up their potential presents from their mom and I. Not perfectly altruistic on their part, but I’ll take it.
I will get to see some family in the next few days I don’t see as often as I’d like to. And, I’m supposed to be getting a Kindle™ for my birthday (Christmas Eve), so I am pretty stoked about that. . . So anyway, you know, this Christmas could turn out to be a pretty good one, after all. Maybe that is why I have been walking around the last few days humming that “do you hear what I hear?” song playing in my head.
I recall that after all the hassle and hustle and bustle, for a brief moment on Christmas morning there is usually a sort of lull; a quiet time between opening gifts around the tree in the living room, and moving on to the dining room to commence the chowing down. In that lull, that quiet time, is it possible that some perhaps supernatural knowledge may be bestowed upon one, if one is open enough and enough at peace with oneself and the world to receive it? If so, then maybe all the things having to do with Christmas, the secular and the religious, the ridiculous and the sublime, will be put in order in one’s mind, if just for a brief moment.
It may even be just possible, in the brief quiet, to hear a voice, but faintly; singing of what this season is really all about, and why it all still matters as much as it does.
”And the baby looks around him
And shares his bed of hay
With the burro in the palace of the king”
He’s a stranger in a strange land
Tell me why. . . “
And so it is Christmas. No, the war ain’t over, but I think am going to celebrate a little anyway.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Feliz Navidad and Happy Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, and Ashura, and Happy New Year, too; to all of Whoopass Nation, and those beyond. . . to those within, and those without. Peace.
It does not matter who you are or what you look like or where you came from or what-all you believe in. You are my brother.
And, oh yeah, Peace on Earth, too. Maybe one day.