I was stashing some baby gear boxes up in the rafters of the garage yesterday, and I found our medium-sized plastic trash bag full of Christmas ornaments. They were next to our 24-inch tinsel Christmas tree and our two small boxes of Christmas lights. All of our Yuletide stuff fit on a 2-foot by 2-foot piece of plywood resting between two roof trusses.
I could have gotten it down as long as I was already standing there on the step ladder, but I guess I thought that if I left it, we might just forget about decorating until it was too late.
I've actually gotten better about tolerating the trappings of Christmas. I wouldn't step foot in a mall in December, of course, but I can walk around the neighborhood, for instance, and appreciate regular folks' attempts to create a festive atmosphere.
Regular folks like this guy:
|The plastic paint tray protects some of the dozens of power strips from the elements|
But last night I strolled past it several times, stood across the street, and was able to admire the dedication required to run this show, as well as the sheer spectacle of it. Of course, part of me was disgusted by the waste of money and natural resources (the local paper says his electric bill is over two grand while he has this display up), but another part of me wanted to sit down and be dazzled. That part of me was overruled, however, by the part that couldn't stand to hear the theme song from Polar Express anymore.
I remember exactly the moment when I soured on Christmas, but I only have theories as to why. It was when I was in seventh grade, and we lived in a run-down apartment in Soviet Moscow that served as one of the diplomatic residences. I didn't remember it as being that shabby, but I recently saw some pictures of it that I hadn't seen in thirty years, and it was all kinds of dilapidated.
So it was the dead of winter in the city for which vodka was invented as an antidote, and my parents had decorated the apartment not only to cheer things up for us, but to show diplomats from other countries what Christmas in America was like. That was part of their job. They were entertaining some diplomats from somewhere in West Africa, I think, and I was in my room, lying on my bed.
All at once, I was overcome by despair, which was not something that happened to me much. I was kind of a sensitive kid, but I was usually preoccupied with my cadre of international diplo-brats, selling Levi's and bubblegum to Russians for worthless rubles, aimlessly riding on the Metro, and memorizing all the words to Frank Zappa albums. I didn't have time for melancholia. But I was alone that night in a house full of strangers, and fell into a funk worthy of Rodya Raskolnikov himself.
After the guests left, my parents found me in a heap in my room, unable to explain what exactly was wrong, only connecting it somehow to Christmas decorations. I must have used the words "tinsel" and "glitter" in my weepy diatribe, because my very indulgent parents put a moratorium on those elements of decor in the house until such a time as I could tolerate them again.
So for every Christmas after my meltdown until I went to college, the house was only decorated in tasteful wooden, glass, and fabric ornaments--preferably handmade--and wreaths made from fresh-cut pine boughs. Christmas trees had monochromatic lighting and a simple angel in a burlap gown on top. For music, Mahalia Jackson was acceptable, but John Denver was pushing up against the boundaries of good taste, and Mannheim Steamroller was way beyond the pale. What a little diva I was!
The truth is that I had mostly gotten over my Christmas revulsion within a couple of years, but it had kind of become my shtick. I was the guy who hated cherubs and fake mistletoe. My "problem" with Christmas got me out of many boring events and onerous obligations, and I could scoff at other people's poor taste with impunity. In fact, I was expected to!
But eventually that role grew tiresome not only to friends and family, but to myself. So I just became the guy who doesn't really care one way or the other about Christmas. It's kind of fun to hang some lights under the eaves and stick our little tree in the bay window, I guess. But it's also fun to not do that, and go see a movie instead. We'll see which way it goes this year.
The thing is, though, that the kids have now seen houses with real Christmas decorations. And I've seen them see these houses. Their feelings about garish displays of lights are not very complicated and can be summed up with their own word
Maybe even something like this:
***Check it out!!! This here's an addendum regarding holiday spirit and generosity and stuff.***
Starting next week, I'll be writing as the token male at a site called Aiming Low, the brainchild of Anissa Mayhew. You will hear much more about that soon, you can be sure.
But the thing is that you can and should go to the site and donate some of your Latte money to a family in dire need who are in real danger of not being able to pay their $40.00 electricity bill this Christmas. Here's the link for Aiming Low's Adopt a Family campaign. Light up their holiday, yo!