Tuesday, December 16, 2008
The melancholy holiday
There comes a time every Christmas season when I just want to hit fast forward to January 2 and put it all behind me.
Some years that moment comes early - say, November 1 or so when that first stale Christmas song comes leaking out of the speakers at the mall. Other years, like this year for example, I've made it all the way to the 10-day line before getting the "let's just get it over with" feeling.
Is it the relentless pressure of fulfilling gift lists, writing cards, baking cookies, and trimming trees that wears me down? No, I decline to partake in most of those behaviors, and I play fast and loose with the rest. I am too selfish a creature to inconvenience myself too much.
I think my impatience with Christmas grows out of myriad disappointments, let downs, and downright tragedies that have become part of my personal Christmas history - number one among these being losing my dad to a Christmas Day heart attack. Hey! Have a holly jolly Christmas with that in your memory stocking! It's been 26 years and yet if I write one more sentence about it I will be crying in my grande Christmas blend. (Note to Starbuck's: Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is not really a Christmas song at all, ok?)
So how can a guy like me who has so much to be grateful for, so much to rejoice in, deck the halls with so much sadness this time of year? Is it too simple to say I'm jaded by unfulfilled expectations? My own expectations, mostly expectations about my own sad self, pulled out of the closet with the ornaments once a year, inspected, found to be unfulfilled once again, and packed away for another year? I am better at remembering philosophies than remembering the philosophers to whom they should be attributed, but I know someone wise said that our miseries are created by our desires. It's the wanting that causes pain - get rid of the wanting, needing, longing, hoping, and just live today, and you might find joy. And yet while I want to believe that, it seems almost non-human to live without desire. What's the point in getting out of bed if not to strive for something? If all I do is live in the moment, how am I any more enlightened than a dog, or a goldfish or a plankton?
Somewhere there's inner peace and holiness and certitude. And in the stillness of the cold winter night there's a promise of redemption. I'll keep seeking it, and rooting for January 2.