I’ve been really “crabby” lately. This time of year brings out the critic in me, possibly because I have some unresolved issues.
(Oh, shockers! Hands up, people who have no unresolved holiday issues! Mazel Tov: you deserve a medal. The rest of us are suitably admiring and envious.)
Despite that, I love this celebration. I love how it makes people at least pretend to be good humans, act as if they embraced other traditions and cultures, to mouth words like “Peace on Earth! Good will towards men!” as if they really meant it.
That’s been dying out, even as a nice act, in recent years, and while I could pithily and endlessly carp about the hardening of hearts, about the perversion of an ethic by the very people who claim to live by the ethic – I’m not going to.
I’m going post this excerpt from “Flashbacks (an unreliable memoir of the ‘60s” — about my own childhood Christmasses instead. Because that’s what I really want to think about right now: the incredible beauty and happiness of a family of love and acceptance and joy.
“Christmas was always a big deal for my family. My mother might not have believed in the God of the Catholic Church (or any other conventional definition of “god”, for that matter), but she knew what joy was and how to expand it, how to transmute it into a living thing. Any occasion would do, but Christmas made it easy.
Preparations began after Halloween (another favourite holiday) and inched its way through carefully orchestrated stages to a crescendo of barely-contained excitement and anticipation; a stringing together of traditional customs and zany, goofy rituals she created, into a seamless fabric of happiness.
There were coloured-paper and threaded popcorn-and-cranberry chains and handmade wooly socks in red and green that joined with Santa Claus traps (1), rewritten Christmas carols, and stories featuring our own imagined characters “The Christmas Piglets” (2) .
There was the annual and always theatrically overdone production of whatever Shakespeare play, ancient fairy tale or historical event my mother felt inclined to that year, invitations to which evenings were much sought after by friends, and then it was strangely echoed by attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
There was the deliciousness of tortierre, sweet potato pudding and turkey with sage stuffing, the magic of Japanese oranges, the heady sweetness of chocolate Santas, the buzz of Secret Projects and the sudden arrivals of long-lost friends from parts unknown.
And then, there was The Day itself which never disappointed, and there were all the days leading up to it that created a sense of both chaos and order, equally amazing in their turn. It was, in short, the best time of the year because she made it so.”
(1) These were mousetraps, carefully decorated with glitter and ribbon, and baited with bits of candy cane. When I was very small, my mother would spring the traps after I was in bed, and use my father’s galoshes to make ashy footprints leading from the fireplace to the tree and back again. Apparently, I went utterly insane with joy at the sight of this on Christmas morning.
(2) I can’t describe this. Trust me: they were loud, vulgar, lovable and occasionally sort of gross.