And how, in fact, do we prepareFrom "Advent, 1955" by John Betjeman
The great day that waits us there -
For the twenty-fifth day of December,
The birth of Christ? For some it means
An interchange of hunting scenes
On coloured cards, And I remember
Last year I sent out twenty yards,
Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
To people that I scarcely know -
They'd sent a card to me, and so
I had to send one back. Oh dear!
Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
Or is it, which is less surprising,
My pride gone in for advertising?
The only cards that really count
Are that extremely small amount
From real friends who keep in touch
And are not rich but love us much
Some ways indeed are very odd
By which we hail the birth of God.
One of the many battles I fight daily is the battle to live in "the now." I waste far too much time (if I let myself) regretting yesterday and worrying about tomorrow. "Yesterdays are over my shoulder" and I can't do a thing about tomorrow. Still I have to make the conscious effort to worry about what I can squeeze out of this moment because, too soon, it will be part of what's behind me. I'm getting better at it...until the calendar turns to December.
Christmas almost always sends my mind looking backwards. I don't so much miss the "physical" aspects of the holiday. I don't want to be 6 years old and spend Christmas Eve sharing a bed with my two youngest sisters and damn near getting crushed by curlers the size of beer cans. I don't wish I could go downtown and ride the Pink Pig (hell, I almost didn't fit in that thing when I was a child...I'd have to get greased up like a pig to fit into it these days.) I don't even need the bounty of presents to open on Christmas morning (though, by the Grace of God and generosity of family there still is one.) It's not those type of things I'm longing for - I'm missing the excitement.
Remember the palpable excitement you could feel in the air at Christmas? And that probably stemmed from the physical traditions of the holiday. We probably got giddy because there was going to be a new bike under the tree or a new "regulation!" Joe Namath New York Jets uniform to put on over your pajamas (somewhere, there exists photographic evidence...I hope to God that no one knows where it is.) But I want to think we got excited about something more than presents. For me, being the youngest of four children, Christmas was usually the only occasion our family was in the same place at the same time, even after college, graduate school, having children and indepdence had all begun to relocate my sisters. And that, in itself, can keep you feeling like the kid brother (in a good way! Sometimes it wasn't fun being the baby!)
I lost my father when I was a fairly young man. As a result, I never got to know him person to person. But my memories of him are that he was rather unapproachable and rather aloof. But even he, on Christmas morning, seemed a bit more human. He seemed to be interested in watching people open gifts. "Now if that doesn't work let me know - the guy at Sears said it would." "That television's small, but they said it would pick up Atlanta stations (way out!) in Carollton.....let me know if it doesn't." I lacked for nothing as a child, don't get me wrong. But I remember Christmas sometimes seeming like the one day my dad paid attention.
I keep hoping that the passing of time will make my mother's absence less noticeable. But it doesn't. And it certainly doesn't at Christmas. From every Christmas card we received being hung around the chest in the living room to every Christmas project me or my sisters had ever done at school adorning some wall or shelf or chest (and some of them were, uh, a bit yellowed and torn!) From her potato candy to her Japanese fruitcake. And that Bing Crosby "White Christmas" album....oh, how the woman loved Christmas. It was tacky as hell, but I still even have fond memories of the fake, cardboard fireplace that she always put on display (since we had no real fireplace in the house) There was a constant twinkle in her eye this time of the year..and I miss it. I'd give a lot to sit next to her in church one more time and feel that elbow in the ribs when someone starts singing "Hark The Herald" "Now THAT'S a Methodist hymn!" she said a thousand times. Whenever we're anywhere and the old Charles Wesley carol starts up, I can feel my bride staring at me out of the corner of her eye to see if I'm getting emotional for she knows that memory of my mother is one of my fondest. And there usually is a tear starting down my cheek. As a child, a "mama's boy" label is a bad thing to wear. As an adult, I don't give a damn if people see me missing my Mama.
So it's not that I don't like Christmas (as I'm often accused of by those that know me.) It's just that I want it to tug at my heart strings like it used to. That's hard to accomplish when work, bills, traffic and all the adult things keep nipping at your heels whether it's December or June. For now, though, I thank God for the woman that I share my life with and consider THAT my Christmas miracle - that there was someone on this earth willing to put up with this loose cannon. So perhaps that should be my goal now - to make every Christmas with her going forward as magical as those gone by. She deserves that.