It would be logical to assume that during the month of December, when my blog seems to be dedicated to all things Christmas, and contains little of my regular types of posts, that, perhaps, I might be a bit obsessed with Christmas — or, at least, obsessed with Christmas music. And, while that seems to be a reasonable assumption, it is also a false assumption.
I’m not much of a holiday person: my beliefs are not Christian, so there’s no religious meaning for me. I am not Scrooge-ish in my dislike for Christmas. I don’t hate the holiday. And, I’m certainly not waging a war against Christmas. It’s just not my favorite time of year, and, I wouldn’t mind just skipping the entire thing.
My dislike of the holidays doesn’t come from some long-ago temper tantrum, thrown because I didn’t get some toy on my wish list. No. That was never an issue in our home. My brother and I were lucky to grow up in a household where there were always lots of presents under the Christmas tree.
My lack of holiday spirit is, I believe, because Christmas happens at the wrong time of year — at least, it is the wrong time of year for the story of my life. Christmas is a reminder to me that winter has been the season where most of the Big, Awful Events of my life have happened.
I can pinpoint the beginning of my evolution from a Christmas lover to someone with an “Is it over yet?” attitude to a specific time: Christmas, 1978.
Prior to 1978, I enjoyed Christmas. I loved the music, the lights, the trees, all the Christmas specials on television, and, for those of you who didn’t grow up in the 1970s, you missed a lot of Christmas specials: every celebrity who could sing and dance had a holiday special, and, in spite of the elaborate costumes, the cheesy comedy, and the odd-assortment of guest starts, the holiday specials of the 1970s were always the best part of the season.
Well, ok, maybe the best part was the presents — when you’re a kid, the presents are pretty much the only reason for Christmas, everything else is a way to pass the time until it is time to rip the paper off all the gifts.
The only downside to the holidays of my youth was decorating the house. To understand why decorating was not a fun thing, it is necessary to understand that our house was nearly bursting with stuff already. If you’ve been in our house in the past decade, you’ll have noticed that even though the house is rather sprawling, there’s not a lot of empty space, but, to really understand, one needs to know that there was even more stuff in the house when I was a kid than there is now. Decorating was a two-step process, and generally took several days. The first step involved moving and rearranging everything so there would be room to display all of the Christmas decorations, and took two or three days (getting the boxes down from the attic was a project that took the better part of the day). Step two was putting the decorations out (every year there were more, decorations purchased in the days following the previous Christmas, when all the merchandise still in the stores got marked down). Decorating the house generally took several days, as there were decorations for every room: towels for the bathrooms and the kitchen; decorative soaps for the bathrooms; linens for every tabletop; throw pillows; throw rugs; knick-knacks of every shape and size; two christmas trees — one for the living room, one for the family room.
Christmas, 1978, was to be the last normal Christmas of my childhood. Everything about Christmas was the same as always — the decorating, the music, going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, coming home, opening presents, making pancakes and eggs, then going to bed. I wished I’d paid more attention to all the details, so I’d remember them more vividly, instead of just assuming it was another Christmas, and that every Christmas afterwards would be much the same. But, at almost thirteen years old, what did I know about paying attention to more than what my stack of wrapped packages looked like?
In January, 1979, the 23rd of January, to be exact, my dad had open-heart surgery; a triple bypass. It was also my parents thirty-first anniversary. Almost three months later, my dad was being operated on for a brain tumor, one that turned out to be malignant. And deadly. The type of cancer, and the location didn’t allow for full-removal; the chemo and the radiation shrunk what was left, though the doctor’s believed he’d only have five to eleven months to live.
By the time Christmas, 1979 arrived, my dad’s cancer had been in remission, and, as a result of a blood-clot in his leg during the summer, and the blood thinner used, his tumor began to be active again. By Christmas time, even though he was stable, we knew there wasn’t much time left. I’d like to say that I remember every detail of that Christmas, the holiday we all knew would be dad’s last holiday. But, I remember nothing distinct about it — the memories all seem to blend in with other Christmases. I find myself wondering “did such and such happen this Christmas, or was it a different Christmas?” I know we tried to make it as normal as possible, tried to do everything we always do: decorate, mass, presents. I think it was important to my parents that my brother and I had a good Christmas, and, I think we even got a few more presents than usual. We knew it was dad’s last holiday, but, we had no way of knowing that by the time Christmas rolled around again, we’d be a family of two, instead of four.
In February of 1980, my father died. In the fall of that year, my brother David (who was adopted, as was I), was sent to live with his birth-mother, and her family. When Christmas 1980 arrived, it was just mom and I. I know we didn’t have Christmas at home, at least not in any formal way — I think the tree went up, because my mom is big on having a tree in the window, so people passing by can see that we are a household that celebrates the holiday. But, I know we didn’t go to mass. I’ve not been to midnight mass since that lass midnight service with my dad and brother present. In fact, I’ve only been to a Christmas mass once since my father died, a few years ago — mom managed to guilt me into it.
In 1981, or 1982, mom began having a big Christmas party — about one hundred people showed up each year that she had the parties. Dad and David were gone, and couldn’t help decorate — and, my mom was the buyer of decorations, and had never really been much involved in the decorating aspect of the holiday, so the task fell upon me. Getting ready, of course, took longer, since there was just me. I’m not sure that I minded it all that much. I wasn’t thrilled about doing it, but, it kept me busy enough that I didn’t have time to think about how lonely Christmas was without my dad and brother. But, I hated the parties. I was a moody, broody teenager, and I hated having that many people invade my home, making merry, while I was still trying to make some sense of the loss of my father and brother.
Other than the parties, the holiday season was uneventful for a few years, until Christmas, 1988, when my then-partner got a call, Christmas day, from his sister, telling him that she’d recently found out she was infected with HIV. Her news broke our little “things like that don’t happen to me” bubble, and spurred us to get tested. In January, the 24th, of the year 1989, I found out that I was HIV+.
Right after Christmas 1994, I ran away from home.
In January 2000, my then-partner and I broke up after twelve years together.
And, just a few years ago, at the end of January, my little brother (yes, I still think of him as my brother, even though he was sent away) died.
My psyche has been damaged when it comes to the holidays. Bad things happen after Christmas. It’s like some sort of cosmic payback for the presents — the universe says “you get presents, then I get to take something from you.” So, I find it tough to be excited about the arrival of December 25th.
Sure, I know that the fear lives in my mind, that Christmas does not automatically mean something bad is going to happen. But, it’s there, the pain of grief and loss, lurking in my brain. Rationally, I know that there is no connection between Christmas and the bad events. That’s why I say that Christmas is just at the wrong time. If Christmas happened during the summer, when very few bad things have happened, I’d not feel such a sense of dread. But, Christmas isn’t in the summer. It’s in December. The dread starts around Thanksgiving — that day that kicks off the holiday season. It starts in the pit of my stomach — the proverbial knot. The closer Christmas gets, the more tense and anxious I get. By New Year’s Day, my brain is mush, and my heart has frozen solid — sealed itself in ice so whatever bad thing is approaching won’t hurt, won’t touch my heart. Once the days start getting longer, once the late winter/early spring flowers start pushing up through the soil does my heart begin to thaw out, does my anxiety begin to go away, do I begin to feel relaxed and safe.
This is the fourth Christmas that I’ve posted a Christmas song every day, for the first 25 days of December. It seems like a jolly, happy thing to do. Really, though, it’s a way to try and force some Christmas spirit into my brain, to try and let some of the joyfulness of the music penetrate my soul.
I can’t say that it’s been successful. I still don’t feel happy and jolly about the approaching holiday. I still feel like I’m holding my breath, waiting … waiting for something unknown that’s definitely bad to happen. It’s not been successful, emotionally, but, mentally, it gives me something to do that’s Christmasy. It makes me spend a bit of time putting the posts together, searching for the videos of my favorite Christmas songs, trying not to post all the exact same ones each time (though, most of them are repeats — there are only so many favorite holiday songs one can have.)
It’s not a perfect way to spend the holidays. But, it’s all I can really manage.
I’m trying something new this year — you’ll notice that there are actually a few written posts this December, that my blog for December is not just 25 videos and a week of silence after Christmas. I’ve got a few other posts planned — Christmas themed. Hopefully they’ll help clear my mind, and, maybe I’ll find a little holiday spirit along the way.