The OHP is one of those unavoidable realities if you decide you want to share your opinions on the internet. You must make a holiday post, wishing well and merry spirits to your loyal readership. So the ten of you out there, happy holidays.
I’m one of those people that hates the holidays. Oh yes, the crowds, the noise, the incessant Christmas music and the constant visual bombardment of Holiday Theme. Sure I have fond childhood memories of Christmas Eve waiting for Santa, whom I knew to be my parents but was still exciting. I remember riding in the back of my grandparent’s Ford Bronco on the way home from church. I would look up at the stars, trying to spot Santa’s sleigh. My uncle would point up in the sky at a flashing red light (satellite, plane, antennae, etc…) and say “Look Ralphie, its Rudolph leading Santa’s sleigh.” I would get excited, and when we got home the presents would be under the tree. Santa had been there!
Nevermind my dad packing me in with the relatives to drive back from church, so that he could rush home before us and pull out the ‘Santa’ presents. I didn’t care. I led the bizarre, present-rich life of a child with divorced parents. After the Christmas Eve festivities, when all my presents were packed into my dad’s pickup and I was sleeping off a sugar coma, he would drive me to a mall. This was the halfway point between where my parents lived. My mom lived closer to Chicago, dad out in the western ‘burbs. I would be sleepily transferred between vehicles, along with whatever presents I couldn’t live without until the following weekend. My mom would ask me what I got, making me talk to her so that she would stay awake. I remember being bundled into the puffy marshmallow coat, and that in collusion with the car heater, would put me right back to sleep.
The next morning I would wake up abominably early, as children are wont to do on Christmas Morning, scurrying to the living room to unwrap presents. Only my mother was usually still sleeping. Maybe I’m mixing memories here. My parents divorced when I was 7, though my dad’s family always traditionally gathered on Christmas Eve and my mom’s family on Christmas Day. The summer before 6th Grade, my mom and soon-to-be stepdad moved from Elgin to Oak Park. So I was older, long past the age of caring about Santa, during most of these festivities.
Then, when I was 17, my father passed away from abdominal cancer and the whole holiday situation changed for me. My dad always loved Christmas, would always get the biggest tree, would always decorate the house and have a swell party. Christmas tunes would be heard in the house shortly after Thanksgiving. My mother converted to Judaism when I was 12. So then, I got Christmas and Hannukah. But I started to lose the holiday cheer after he passed. This post has become long and rambly, but I’m winding my way down to a point. The point I mentioned earlier. I hate the holidays.
Without my father’s enthusiasm for Christmas, I stopped caring. All I could feel around the holidays was the hole in my life where he had been. I went to celebrate the holidays with both families, but I was just going through the motions. Instead of the time of joy and cheer, I could only think about the loss and grief. I was too blinded by it to remember the family I still had.
That faded too. Christmas is still rough. I still miss my dad. But now my reasons for disliking the holidays have changed. Now I see Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving, here Christmas music before Thanksgiving and am bombarded by rampant, unwieldy commercialism. Now its buy, buy, buy! Christmas at a profit, and I’m not the first to make this rant so I’ll cut it short. For me I feel that the holidays in general have lost their purpose. For me, a holiday like Christmas is less about religion, less about buying things for other people and hoping I get some bitchin’ awesome presents. Christmas to me is about family, about loving each other and caring, and taking a day out of the year to be with each other.
So what did I do to enforce that Christmas spirit in myself? I moved a couple thousand miles away from my family. Well, that wasn’t really my goal. But it is an an unpleasant side effect. I moved to California with my wife because we thought it was the best idea at the time. But distant makes the heart grow fonder, and as the holidays roll through, I miss my family. I miss those Christmas Eve nights, even if they were awkward and uncomfortable at times. I miss the raucous and lively chaos of my mom’s family, 30 people filling my grandmother’s basement for 6 hours.
Once upon a time, maybe a couple years ago, I would’ve just been sad and depressed. I would have most contentedly wallowed in the bleakness of the season, writing atrocious poetry about Santa’s helper, Black Peter, swapping my heart for a lump of coal. Or something. But as I attempt to build a family of my own, I must build a new tradition. So often we cling to our past, lauding it as a golden time which will never be recaptured. Half of that is right. You don’t get to go back. Instead, we build for the future.
This year I’ll spend Christmastime with my in-laws, who are kind enough to fly in and spend the holiday with us. I can’t think of anything better than spending it with my wife and her parents. That’s not entirely true, of course, but the holiday is still a time of joy. Celebrate what you have, instead of mourning what you don’t.