This year, I resolved there would be no festive lights, no Christmas tree, no holiday baking, and the minimal amount of cheerful presents. It's not difficult really to essentially cancel Christmas since I'm the only one who decorates, bakes, shops. Now, I could make a case that it is a somber holiday. My dad died on Christmas Eve. I went ahead with Noche Buena anyway. He would have approved. And although illness clouds this approaching eve, that's not it either.
"So, Mom, are you watching your sappy Christmas movies yet?" my daughter asks over the phone.
"No," I reply. "That's for people who celebrate Christmas." She was referring to one of my favorite holiday pastimes, watching a syrupy, soupy Christmas movie a night for the month of December. Truth is, I love it. I come by it honestly. My Dad was crazy about Christmas. For a variety of reasons, he had missed out growing up. My mother used to call him "el niño sin infancia," or the boy without a childhood. Well, he made up for it.
Every year, we would pile in whatever Pontiac he had at the moment and head up to Manhattan to get our tree. It had to be a real one, the kind that smelled and had to be fed aspirin and wound up dropping aromatic needles everywhere. In the dark, we would barter and buy under the old West Side Highway, where trees were chosen the by the glow of light bulbs strung on props of wood. The purchase always entailed great debate as to whether it was too scrawny, too tall for the ceiling, too expensive. Into the night, we would drive with our trophy firmly tied to the roof.
Invariably, when we got home, it would be too tall or crooked or some other condition that necessitated cutting the base. A saw borrowed from some place, as we lived in a Brooklyn tenement, tree firmly in its base, it would begin. Dad's responsibility was stringing the lights. This, he turned into a ritual which required the most careful of placement. First, however, they had to be tried because inevitably one of the little lights would be blown and the string would be out. He would examine each twinkle bulb carefully, as if anyone could tell which one was out. Then he would change bulb after bulb until he hit the right one. His solemn charge accomplished, he would relinquish the tree to the colorful ministrations of my Mom and myself. The toys under the tree Christmas morning, however, had to be wrested away from him so that I could play.
As fate would have it, the hubster was by geography and personal circumstance similarly Christmas-challenged. But where my Dad threw himself into the process, hubby scoffs and scoffs and scoffs. For 30 years now, I have been dragging the man, kvetching, across the Christmas finish line. One year, his daughter gave him the soundtrack to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Talk about your pointed presents. Let me tell you, there is nothing more depressing in a in a one horse open sleigh than someone complaining all the way. No mas. The man doesn't like Christmas. We won't celebrate it.
And so it was that last night for the first time this year, I was innocently channel surfing and stumbled upon a movie, not just any movie either. The plot was something about an accountant who magically transforms a bunch of homeless men into a choir, etc.... It could have been any one of a hundred made for TV holiday movies. I felt it. I realized the true spirit of Christmas: for one shining moment in time, in the midst of darkness and winter, we recapture the color and light of childhood, the wonder, the magic. The most potent magic, I think, is the possibility of goodness, our own and that of others. That's what Christmas is all about.
And as for me, don't despair. When I couldn't tamp down my desire to decorate. I gift wrapped the paintings in the living room in a somber pewter and gray paper with black ribbon. I did put a white poinsettia on them. I took out Dad's soft and cuddly Santa Doll and put it on my night table. And as I write, maybe I'm wearing red ornament earrings.
Funny thing is that somewhere across the years, that Grinch heart must have started growing ever so slightly, nearly approaching the size of a human one. Many a reference to the lack of decorations around the old homestead and even a joking accusation of laziness have been made. There have been a few false starts to string lights on the house. The other evening, we wound up at a local shopping area to see the lights. For half a minute tonight, going to see the Christmas parade on Main Street was a possibility. Who knows, by the time this season is over, maybe there will be joy in Whoville. Doesn't really matter though, because one thing I've discovered in the year with no tree is that I carry Christmas in my heart. Every thing else is really window dressing.