Ah, Christmas. ‘Tis the season, deck the halls, joy to the world, and all that stuff.
Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, and yet, celebrations often come with obligations and complications. Christmas, for those of us that partake in it, has multiple, and sometimes conflicting meanings. For some, Christmas is a religious observance. Although I respect the Christian origins of the holiday, I don’t follow any particular religion, have been to church only a handful of times, and associate Christmas more with elves than I do wise men. Christmas is primarily a commercial event for many people, and although I do enjoy giving and receiving, I appreciate the thought put into a gift more so than the dollar amount. Finally, Christmas, for many, surrounds family traditions. For me, the term “family” is as diverse as the specific activities that I enjoy with different family members. “Families” can be groups you are born or adopted into, ones your divorced parents marry you into, ones you yourself marry into, and ones that accumulate throughout your life from circles of friends and colleagues. I enjoy spending time with all these individuals, but I value more personal time with smaller groups than large gatherings where I exchange small talk with a variety of people. I also appreciate private time during the holidays, in which I have more time to paint, write, read, and watch movies. I believe the notion of “celebrating” should not be limited to one set of activities on one specific day. My rituals aren’t always traditional, but they are genuine and specific to me. So far this season, my mom has come to NC from Ohio to visit me, and we did a lot of Christmas shopping. I gave her one of my watercolor paintings, and she showered me and my husband with gifts. Giving to her children and grandchildren throughout the year and especially at Christmas is a great joy to her. And I certainly benefit and appreciate that joy! It was fun shopping with her for me, as well as for other members of the family.
Here is a photograph of me at the mall, holding a giant, stuffed shark she bought for her grandson (my nephew). I smiled as I traveled through the mall carrying the shark and people smiled back at me. I wish I had thought to photo-bomb the Christmas Santa, but it gives me a new activity for next year. The week before Christmas, I went to a matinee of American Hustle with friends who also had free time. My friend Jay picked me up, and my friend Julie drove me home and helped my dye my hair a festive red. In appreciation, I made a small painting for her of her favorite flower, the hibiscus. These kinds of activities may not directly relate to Christmas, but they contribute to my seasonal cheer.
My husband and I have a non-traditional Christmas palm tree he usually puts up, but this year, I wanted to contribute more, so I made a collage of a tree with acrylic paint and images from magazines. For me, it represents how we design our own, unique Christmas rituals. I bought him a smoker as an early Christmas present, so he could smoke us a Thanksgiving turkey. It was delicious, and I am looking forward to the Christmas turkey! He enjoys cooking, and I enjoy eating everything he prepares, according to my tastes. It makes him happy when I am happy. On Dec. 25, as he prepares our meal, I will wear my Christmas-themed pajamas, binge-watch Modern Family on DVD, and indulge in an afternoon glass of wine.
After Christmas day, my dad and step-mom will come from Ohio to Durham to visit me, my step-sister, and our families. There will be dinners, movies, and possible cookie decorating with my 5 year old niece, as we try not to wake up her 6 month old brother. Every year, my dad jokes about how I used to behave during Christmas as a child. When I was young, Christmas was primarily about the presents, although I reveled in all the Christmas activities: making and decorating cookies; hanging all the ornaments, garland, and lights, inside and outside the house; sitting on Santa’s lap; and caroling. My dad chuckles as he recalls how I would be awake almost all night on Christmas Eve in anticipation. I loved opening presents and then throughout the day, despite my sleep deprivation, playing with new toys with my cousins from out of town, or playing board games with my grandparents. I also adored eating a Christmas dinner that I “helped” my mom prepare and falling asleep early in front of the Christmas tree. Then in a few days, after New Year’s was over, the tree came down, I went back to school, and I crashed. Teachers would call my parents to express concern about my melancholy. I attribute this now somewhat with it being winter in Ohio, but I know it was largely due to just letdown and exhaustion. I would cheer up over time.
These activities may be familiar some of my readers and foreign to others, raising the question: What is the true meaning of Christmas? I think there are many answers. Perhaps the more important question to ask is how to take the elements of joy we feel at Christmas and spread them throughout the year. I would say to everyone, regardless of the season: bake, if you enjoy it; sing if you feel compelled; decorate your surroundings with color; relish time with loved ones; be generous and thoughtful; and have a piece of red velvet cake with ice cream and savor every bite.