I have cousins, whom I kind of love a lot.
As a matter of fact, I think they would be surprised at how much I love them, and how much our family loves them.
They are from my side of the family.
When we were little, we would see each other every Sunday, after church, at ‘Nana-and-Papa’s’. The kids would run amok completely unattended, in a hazy house while the grown ups smoked and drank and got louder and louder about everything from the comparisons of existentialism and transcendentalism (Mom was a Thoreau nut, Papa favored Emerson) to – inevitably – politics.
We didn’t understand a thing they were talking about anyway.
We were busy arguing over what to watch in the ‘kids’ room’ (which was about twelve feet from the living room, which was a foot from the kitchen.. it was a very small house), or playing hide-and-go-seek (how could we hide in exactly the same spots every week and yet, the next week, still not get found?). We would usually play this game at dusk, the hardest part of the day for human eyes to actually, you know, see, and within inches of one of the busiest roads in Woburn, Massachusetts.
And yet, we survived.
We had this Sunday ritual right up until our worlds imploded a bit.
Mine first, when my father left. I remember hushed conversations behind the bed in Nana’s room in the Sundays immediately following his departure.
Feeling pretty cool and collected, and completely blown apart at the same time.
And then, my cousins, the next year.
Their father gone.
I remember talking about it as a veteran then.
I was nine.
Both families were broken.
This was a time that wasn’t set up for single mothers. There was no ‘daycare’. Jobs for uneducated women were few. Husbands, at least theirs, were unreliable with any sort of payments. It was bleak.
My own mother’s emotional issues. tethered somewhat quietly beneath the surface until then, were unleashed.
I think the entire world may actually have turned black and white then, just like the picture on our old tv, and with very few shades of grey.
We all remember heading over to ‘Nana-and-Papa’s’ on Christmas Eve.
We remember clamoring onto the little bed closest to the window in the kids’ room and looking up into the sky.
Was that red light Rudolf?
Yes! Yes! It had to be! It had to!
Someone go get Chris!
Chris was the oldest cousin. If you wanted confirmation, you always got Chris.
And we would oogle at Nana-and-Papa’s tree (it was always on a table, right in front of the picture window), and we would fight to play with their amazing tiny wind up skating rink with the little plastic-y rubber-y Santa who twirled.
And the world would be in Technicolor.
Christmas in those years was a much-needed break from the struggles, both inner and outer.
A time when traditions soothed souls weary from traveling the past year.
I was a pretty attuned kid.
Did I think that the spirit of the season was going to last well into January?
Did I think it was easy for my mother? For my aunt?
Did I feel like somehow my house was going to become a happy, or even predictable place going forward (let alone one we could tell the truth about to Nana and Papa), having had a pretty good Christmas?
Nope. Not even once did I think that.
Did it matter?
Not even a little.
I don’t do bitter well, never did.
I suppose on one hand, it was pretty cool to have a break from the everyday.
But, really, it was more than that.
It was kind of awesome to open up to the magic of the season.
Put a quarter in a red pot near a bell-wielding Santa Claus.
Awesome to enjoy the peace that seemed to descend on the world’s collective spirit.
People smiled more.
Held doors for each other more.
Twinkled… just a little bit more.
The thing is, all that was – and is – real.
It doesn’t matter to me that this spirit is temporary, it matters that it happens at all.
It doesn’t matter to me that people feel more charitable at this time of year than at other times, it matters that they feel charitable. And that the groups of people they contribute to, with time or money, can depend on this, and can help the folks they are trying to help.
It doesn’t matter that it began as a religious holiday and spread from there.
Let the good stuff ripple infinitely.
And as for the commercialization and selling and stuff?
Dude, if I don’t want to read or watch something, I just turn the page or channel.
I wouldn’t do Black Friday shopping if Marshal Dillon Dingle threatened to set my hair on fire. You wanna do it, have at it. None of my business (but it is someones, and you may be helping them to keep it).
I have had Christmases with my fractured family, Christmases with pretty much just myself, Christmases with JoHn’s family before kids, and Christmases with the huge, loud, noisy completely flawed and imperfect and at once absolutely perfect family that were beyond my dreaming capacity way back when.
I have had religious Christmases, atheistic Christmases, agnostic Christmases.
Also, one year, a strange amalgamation of Jewish Buddhist Baptist Christmas, which is a story for another time.
I cannot remember a bad Christmas (and, no, I wasn’t in denial).
There is a quote I absolutely love, its author unknown.
Peace. It’s not about being in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It is being in the midst of those things, and still being calm in your heart.
Christmastime, for me, begins and ends in my heart.
It is my time to celebrate Joy.
To slow down and pay attention and see and be in a world for what it can be, as we take even the tiniest step closer to each other and connect (those of us who want to).
And, if an angel named Clarence gets his wings, and Santa turns out to be real?
That stuff’s just a bonus.
Thanks for readin’.
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