I love A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. What a fabulous idea he had to look at the inadequacies of a man and show where they started, where they really leave him short-changed on life's good experiences and how the future may well turn out if he doesn't make a sharp turn presently. It is so fitting to what I've been thinking about myself and talking about recently with just about everyone. Perhaps, it is because of the financial collapse of the last few years, but it seems like so many of us are reassessing our values and even our dreams for the future. I've been conscious of the word "divergence" and the idea of how we may correct our course mid-life, later in life...once we've gone as far as we can go on the course that our divergence leads us to take.
Christmas was a very happy time for me personally, being an only child and having low expectations always. I always received more than I expected. Perhaps that is why from the very beginning though I felt the tug of the bah-humbug, I rallied against it by committing myself to perpetual cheeriness to the point of insanity. I would be the anti-Scrooge most of my life, always giving much more than I had to give and wanting to give more. Did this come from guilt? Perhaps. I don't know. All I can say is that I felt driven by a belief that Christmas must live up to a promise of happiness that I could only grasp at by giving it all I had to give.
This year I've come to understand that another word for "belief" is "hypothesis," and that practicing beliefs is really attempting to prove that hypothesis and make it a working hypothesis. I hope I'm saying that right. My practices in Christmas past were attempts to make a working hypothesis of the season that I had relatively little to do with in reality. I was raised without religion other than consumerist guilt. My father used to say that Christmas shopping was an exercise in buying until he felt less guilty. So, that was half of my religion; though, for him it was important to make everyone around him feel guilty for making him do such a thing. He even designed his own "bah-humbug" wrapping paper using his blueprint copier. My mother and step-mother claimed to be giving from the goodness of their hearts, though often it felt that they were using Christmas to argue with my father. They each had their strategies for making the holidays "fun" which were related to decorations and creating tableaus of beautiful, shiny objects on every surface.
I am remembered, by some, at a certain point of my life, as doing a different Christmas tree each year...yes all new decorations, new themes, new lights. I'm remembered for festive parties (to go with the decorative themes). I am remembered for wrapping presents with enormous bows and decorative cards. I'm remembered for insisting on caroling down the middle of the street. I'm remembered for being the one with the mistletoe, the scented candles, the swag. I'm remembered for sending out Christmas cards with long-hand written notes to hundreds. I'm remembered for baking gingerbread and cookies, for designing, by hand, architectural wonders from candy and gingerbread, making extravagant holiday meals, creating decorative tableaus of beautiful, shiny objects on every surface. Not all of this was a success by a long-run, but I attempted to pull it all off every year, for many years. I know there are some of you out there who will defend your right to continue doing this, and I say, more power to you.
This is the past that haunts me, and feels like heavy chains of burden, I still carry to this day. I can't live up to myself anymore. That's the truth. I've been through too much in the past decade to believe that creating that kind of hooplah will make anyone, least of all myself, happy. It is no longer worth it to me to be in debt at the start of the next year, sick and tired, and hung over from too much everything. Yet, I also do not want to be like my Dad, bah-humbugging other people's joy. I've been seeking some sort of peace around how to relate my Christmas past experiences with the small, simple realities of my present. Truly I am more like the Cratchit family than anyone else in A Christmas Carol tale these days, in my feeling that Christmas must be celebrated no matter the limitations. How do we make Christmas season a pleasure rather than a burden, framed by past Christmases?
I'm urged on by my children's juiced up desire to have a Christmas like Christmas Past that they remember before the divorce, when I was still trying so hard to live up to myself in spite of considerable odds against me. Please note that my first marriage ended in January. Not being able to deliver that to them is painful to me, and yet I see it as a gift. The gift is recalibrating reality somehow so that joy is no longer equated with too many boxes of toys that end up shelved within a week. Without a religion to call my own, and turning away from consumerism it is definitely challenging to come up with some experience of Christmas Present that works for all of us...that has some real meaning and isn't just another day in life...and that isn't a trumped up meaningless exercise in fakery. Maybe it will take looking at Christmas Futures, the potential outcomes of this hypothesis that Christmas matters to families and friends enough to invest in it even with limitations...