Watching others experience Christmas differently in 2020 taught me how differently I’ve always done Christmas. Well… not always always. I did have those earliest years of a wishlist and a Santa fulfilling it if I were GOOD enough. I did have a family that decorated like crazy and came together for big meals and hearty laughs and so many hugs and of course the exchange of gifts. I grew up with those Christmases.
And then my brothers were grown and gone. And then daddy left. And there were a few years in the beginning when momma and I tried to do a proper Christmas, but her heart wasn’t always in it and at some point the financial strain of it was too great and while we would always go to my grandmother Cleo’s for an hours-long Christmas Eve dinner, at some point, Christmas at home just stopped being much of a thing.
Momma would start to bring out only a few of the decorations. We’d opt not to get a tree. One year, she was so depressed she declared we weren’t going to do Christmas at all and my oldest brother would have none of it, so he showed up to our house with a tree, insisting there be a Christmas.
He wasn’t the only assertive, willful child in the family. His way of insisting a Christmas happen was by forcing the tree — and the decorating of the tree — into reality. My way of insisting a Christmas happen another year was celebrating “Jewish style” like so many of my friends at school did. I rented a stack of movies from Blockbuster and ordered in takeout Chinese — a feast to feed the whole fam, because even though the house was not decorated for Christmas, my brothers and their families were coming over.
And while my mother and I loved the Chinese feast and the house with no Christmas decorations, my oldest brother was so furious at me and cruel to me (why me? I never learned why his rage was often targeted at me; I suspect it’s because I lived a creative life he didn’t allow himself to live but who can know for sure) that I vowed then that I would never again attempt to put on a Christmas someone else didn’t want to have.
After that, mom would do some amount of decorating — usually taping up the cards she received from hundreds of astrological clients from all over the world (taping up cards is actually a pretty gorgeous way of decorating on a budget, y’all) and putting out the ceramic Christmas tree my other grandmother, Mommy Mary, made for us. I still have that ceramic tree in our garage here at the beach. I’ve never once put it out for Christmas.
I realized a big part of my lack of celebrating Christmas comes from having always been a pet-sitter in my 20s and early 30s. Why decorate our apartment if I’m just gonna be spending the holidays staying in someone else’s home, gorgeously decorated, for such a big part of November and December, hanging out with puppies and kitties and sometimes birds?
Another reason we don’t do Christmas comes from Keith’s challenging upbringing — and those are his stories to tell, so I’ll leave it vague — and of course from the fact that his son, my beloved stepson, was only here with us in California during the summer. We would send money to Michigan for his Christmas but there was no kid to decorate for here. So much of Christmas is about the illusion of a character that rewards a kid for being GOOD that without kids, the illusion is not necessary to maintain, right?
Now, to get really specific, I’m also not that big into the surge of consumerism that is Christmas as we celebrate it here in the States. I mean, y’all do know that Jesus Christ was not born in December, right? And the modern American Santa Claus character was created by Coca-Cola, off a Middle Eastern icon? And we’re teaching kids to be GOOD because they won’t get gifts otherwise? Yeah… there’s not all that much about Christmas that feels aligned for me to celebrate.
But the easy way to say it is: I’m just not all that sentimental.
I think any reason anyone has to celebrate anything ever is a great idea. If gathering with family around a tree or candles and exchanging presents this time of year turns you on, that’s amazing. For me, long before my mother passed away on December 28, 2000, this time of year hasn’t been that big a deal.
That Charlsie died 20 years ago during a season she and I had elected not to do too much celebrating around, 20 years before that, is fine. It was gonna suck to lose my mom whenever that happened. Every year, December gets challenging for all the reasons it’s hard to be without your very best friend.
But Christmas, for us, is just another day. It’s a quiet day since so few people have needs that cause them to reach out to us for help. It’s a day we get a lot done, which makes it like any other day the rest of the world seems focused on themselves more than usual.
There’s no reason to be sad for us about this, y’all. I haven’t had attachment to the presumed sentimentality of this day in decades. Like… maybe even 4 decades, to be accurate. The quietness of the day makes it easier to feel my feelings about losing my mom, and there were many years that vodka helped buffer those feelings. This is my 5th sober December so I get to really sit with these feelings. And of course so much of my mind-body healing work surrounds this activity every day, so, again… not all that different today. 😉
Here’s today in Santa Monica.
Just another day in paradise.
Merry Christmas, y’all.