Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I love that about this time of year — the most wonderful one, according to song (though honestly, that song doesn’t have a whole lot of the most wonderful things in it: sure, it’s got the “gay happy meetings and holiday greetings,” but what’s with the “scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long long ago?” I suppose it’s talking about A Christmas Carol, which is an excellent movie; but otherwise, who tells ghost stories on Christmas? What kind of bizarre family did that songwriter grow up in? And you know what that song doesn’t have? Eggnog.) — because I like when people wish each other well. I am not a Christian, don’t believe in the Messiah; but I still want people to be merry, and so I wish them happiness for the holidays. And other people, who don’t even know me, say the same thing: after the usual “Thanks for shopping at ____ and have a nice day!” that people recite by rote without any particular meaning behind it (Because what cashier really cares if you shop at Wal-Mart or Safeway? This is a good reason to shop small: because they mean it when they say it. Though still, I wonder how many people think about what they’re saying when they say that. I know I don’t think about it when I say “Thanks, you too.”), now they add, “And Merry Christmas!” it adds a second, more intentional level of goodwill: people actually think about it (Hopefully not only because they worry about offending people; I am generally against political correctness, as it leads to censorship; but I think we can all agree that there’s no political correctness stupider than the reaction against the “War on Christmas.” And if you don’t agree, you may not want to keep reading this blog, as I am not going to say a lot of things that make you happy. But you know what? Have a Merry Christmas, anyway. Thanks for stopping by my blog and upping my Visitor Counter. I actually appreciate it: because I have so few visitors that every one matters to me.), and they actually mean that wish: they want you to have a merry Christmas. They want you to have some happy holidays. There is kindness, during this season, in even the simplest of social interactions — pass by someone on the street, and they might smile and say Merry Christmas, too, particularly on the day itself.

You know what? We should have more days like this. More days when people think about their greetings, and mean what they say when they wish people well.

I got up this morning at about 6:15, because I went to bed late last night because I had a nap yesterday afternoon. None of these things are normal for me: I generally get home from work too late to have a nap, and so I am frequently exhausted by about 9:30 and asleep by 10:00, and that means that I wake up around 4am (I generally sleep about six hours a night. Don’t judge me. It’s Christmas.), and, more often than not, I start thinking about school and my students and the work I have to do. That means I don’t really go back to sleep, though I do sometimes, which is nice; but when I don’t, that means I’m already tired when I get up about 5:00, and through my entire day; this makes me cranky with my students and angry at my job, when neither of those things are at fault: it’s only because I’m an early-morning insomniac, which I inherited from my father. Who would also rather not wake up at 4am and fret. And, of course, since I am tired from the get-go, I am exhausted about 9:30, 10:00, and I go to bed early and sleep for about six hours.

But yesterday, Toni and I took a nap in the afternoon, for a good hour, hour and a half. So I was able to stay awake and enjoy Love Actually last night, even though we didn’t start it until 9:00 or so. Then we went to bed, I read for a little while, and then went to sleep, and slept until 6:15. And when I woke up, the most anxious thought I had was, “Oh — I have to remember to get the cinnamon rolls out of the fridge.”

You know what? We should have more days like this. Days when people can sleep in a little, and wake up thinking happy thoughts. Days when we wake up without stress, without fear.

This morning, I opened up my new container of eggnog — because the first one I bought was terrible; it was either poorly made or it was going bad when I got it, because it had that sour aftertaste that eggnog can get, a little like drinking gasoline — and took a swig to make sure it was good (No, I didn’t drink from the container; I poured it in a cup. What am I, a savage?), and it was delicious. That was a wonderful first taste for the morning. Then my coffee got finished brewing (And my coffeemaker kindly decided to get it right this morning; it has been struggling with the workload in this house, where no morning goes by without two or three pots of coffee, with another frequently brewing later in the day [On days when there isn’t a nap, that is.], and has been giving up the brew before all the water is gone from the reservoir, beeping its little beep to tell me there is coffee — until I pick up the pot, and it’s light, because it’s mostly empty, because most of the water is still in the machine, unheated, unbrewed: unacceptable. But today, that beep meant “Coffee’s ready! And Merry Christmas!”) and I poured a tall cupful into the mug I got as a gift from one of my students, added sweetener and honey and a splash of eggnog, and: perfect. Ambrosia. And I did remember to get the cinnamon rolls out of the fridge: the cinnamon rolls which Toni made from scratch yesterday, the which we enjoyed after our morning walk with Sammy. They were incredible: gooey and warm and rich and delicious. The perfect first meal of the day. Fresh cinnamon rolls, and good coffee, and eggnog.

You know what? We should have more days like this. Days when we enjoy our morning sustenance, when breakfast is a meal, rather than a fueling stop; when the coffee is enjoyable, rather than a necessary bulwark against narcolepsy. Not that I expect my wife to make cinnamon rolls every morning, far from it; I want to be able to stand and walk, in the future, and cinnamon rolls every morning would quickly turn me into one of the hoverchair-bound blobs from Wall-E. But I actually like the cereal I eat, and Toni loves toast; we both enjoy a good bagel on a weekend. The point I’m going for here is that food should be tasted, and the taste should be good; breakfast most days is neither of those things, for most people. And we should change that. Breakfast should feel like it does on Christmas.

This morning, I will be reading my new book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, by Patton Oswalt. My wife bought it for me at Barnes and Noble, on a whim, because though I haven’t read Patton Oswalt before, she knows that I love his standup comedy, and she knows I like reading books by comedians I like. So she bought it, I bought her a chick-lit book of the kind she likes (which I hope is good, but it’s an author I don’t know. I liked the description, though, and the fact that there is an Aunt Midge. Can’t go wrong with an Aunt Midge.), and we decided to celebrate Jolabokaflod, the Icelandic tradition of “Christmas Book Flood:” when you give each other a book on Christmas Eve, and spend the rest of the evening reading. Okay, we watched Love Actually last night instead of reading; and I have been writing this blog — and also playing Facebook games while petting my dog — instead of reading this morning, but I plan to get to it later. The point is, we looked for books for each other not working from a wish list, but just browsing, in an actual store, and picking something out that looks good based on the likes and dislikes of the intended recipient. Then we gave those gifts to each other mostly because we wanted to, not because of tradition or obligation or any attempt to impress or make up for past sins or conflicts. And they’re books.

You know what? We should have more days like this. When we find gifts for each other based on what we think the other person will like, not what they ask for. When we take our time shopping, and give the result to someone we love, just because we want to make them happy.

There are things I don’t like about Christmas. I am charging my phone, because I expect to get obligatory family phone calls today; if I don’t receive them, I will make them. And it’s not that I mind talking to my family, but I don’t like doing it only because we have to, because it’s Christmas. In a few days I will be flying to see my family, which I don’t want to do; not because I don’t want to see my family, I do, but because I am doing it largely out of obligation instead of preference, and because I don’t want to fly, and I don’t want to leave my wife and my pets for the four days I will be visiting. These sorts of things go on at Christmas. We have been having a bit of a rough month, mostly because work piled up for me and I was frustrated and resentful about it; we haven’t been feeling very Christmas-y for the last month. But because it is Christmas, and because there is such a weight of tradition around this holiday, this unfestive situation has come with a bonus: guilt. I have felt guilty for making Christmas feel melancholy, and Toni has felt guilty for not getting into the Christmas spirit and decorating and drawing her own Christmas card and sending it out early in the month to all of our friends and family. Going to visit family also reminds me of the family I will not be seeing — my mother, mainly — and that brings its own guilt. And this time of year, I feel particularly bad for the people who are down and out, and I wish I could do more to help them — and I feel guilty that I can’t. Same thing with the limited funds I have for present-buying: there are a hundred things I would buy for my wife, and for everyone I know, if I had the money. But I don’t. Because I am not wealthy. More guilt, and probably the stupidest guilt there is; but here it is, and because of Christmas.

So I’m thinking that we should have more days like Christmas, but not more Christmas.

I’ve noticed that there has been a push towards this, and away from the religious holiday season, for a while, now; that’s presumably why some folks see a war on Christmas, and fight back by getting belligerent about the “reason for the season” — you know, the Prince of Peace. But I don’t think it’s a rejection of religion so much as a common desire similar to what I’ve been talking about: we want the good stuff of the holidays, without the bad; the joy without the baggage, the presents without the wrapping, so to speak. The best thing about this day is the quiet: go outside, take a walk, and recognize how few people are driving around, how many people are at home, with their loved ones, spending some quiet time. It’s like the whole world is taking a breath. It’s lovely, and it’s rare; I think the only days of the year when this happens are Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Only three, really — and what’s worse, they’re all piled up on one end of the calendar.

I think we should have more. And I think we should space them out. It’s good to breathe, to breathe deeply, and take a moment to pause and enjoy what we have.

So I would like to start a new tradition. I don’t want to take away from the old tradition; there is nothing that can — or should — replace Christmas. I certainly don’t want Christmas music to be played all year long, but I also don’t want a December to go by without a chance to sing along with Blue Christmas — or this one, which I think may be my new favorite, because it’s a mix of the classic and the new — well, sort of new; newer than Bing Crosby, anyway. And I like the message coming through loud and clear, but still paying respect to Christmas itself.

Same for eggnog: I love the nog, but I wouldn’t want it year-round.

Here, then, is my suggestion. We take the parts of Christmas that we all love — the kindness, the peace, the generosity, and the deep, calming breath — and do it at other times during the year. We can start small: I’m going to suggest the Solstices and Equinoxes, the old Sun and Fire festivals of the Celtic past. Because they’re nicely spaced out, and each has its own theme: the Spring Equinox is rebirth and planting; Midsummer Night is a celebration of life and love; the Autumn Equinox is a perfect time for harvest and a celebration of plenty; and then winter, the Yule, a time of gathering in, embracing old traditions and family and closeness and warmth. Start with those four, a new one every three months, and maybe we can expand it more: have a celebration of kindness and love every month — or every week. Or every day.

A time of peace, and goodwill towards men. Shouldn’t we have more of those?
Merry Christmas, everybody. Now I’m going to go drink some eggnog.

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