Another Christmas is right around the corner, and this holiday feels different from so many others that have come and gone.
I suspect some of you may be feeling the same way, considering the stress that too often accompanies the holiday season.
I’m not sure why I am having a harder time getting into the spirit of the season this year. The awful part of this is that there is no good reason for my absence of holiday cheer. I am incredibly blessed; more than I should be.
I have a loving, beautiful and supportive wife (Don’t ask me how I pulled this off, because I have no clue).
I have two healthy, wonderful step children, a beautiful home, modern appliances and a good job with benefits, funny co-workers and a flexible boss.
I have two dogs that love me unconditionally and two cats that keep me on my toes.
I have an extended family that is more supportive than dysfunctional. Heck, I even have new tires on my truck, not to mention access to health care and a set of tools that I don’t know how to use.
So, why shouldn’t I feel jolly and bright as this holiday approaches? What has me feeling cynical and ready to scream, “Bah Humbug” at random strangers?
Maybe, just maybe, I have too much. Maybe, just maybe, I have forgotten why we celebrate this holiday.
This realization came to me as I began to reflect on Christmases past; on Christmas celebrations that did not come with so many expectations of the so-called perfect holiday.
As I contemplated these ghosts of Christmases past, it occurred to me that two particular Christmas holidays stood out as my favorites.
1.) Homefries with paprika
It was the Christmas of 1997, and I was 33 years old, virtually unemployed and living with three roommates on the third-floor of a Munjoy Hill apartment in Portland that was much closer to the bottom of the hill. I did not own a car, nor did I have a girlfriend.
I was, in every sense of the word, a loser. At least, that was my opinion of myself back then.
These aforementioned roommates of mine were unruly slobs who liked to drink, stay up late and delighted in terrorizing my cat. They were lovable guys, actually; but it grew wearisome picking up after them and tolerating their frat-boy behaviors. On the other hand, they were covering my portion of the rent. So, there’s that.
Luckily, my three roommates were all headed to their respective homes for the holidays, and I was not. To me, this was the ultimate Christmas gift: I would have the entire apartment all to myself for a few days. I spent almost an entire day cleaning the place, lit some candles and then planned what I would do on my solitary Christmas.
Only a few weeks before, my sister gave birth to my oldest niece, Kaitlyn. I had a little more than $20 in my pocket, so my Christmas shopping was going to be limited. So, on December 24, I trudged down Congress Street and stopped at the CVS store. I bought a rather inexpensive frame and some parchment paper; and then trudged down the hill toward the Hannaford store, where I bought a thick ham-steak, half-dozen eggs and some egg nog before heading home.
I loaded my word-processor with the parchment paper and drafted a poem for my niece; a poem to celebrate her first Christmas. Satisfied with the third version, I placed it in the frame and wrapped it.
I opted to attend Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and by the time I walked back home, a quiet peace and serenity enveloped me. I was exhausted, but content.
I fell asleep reading Ben Bradlee’s autobiography and awoke on Christmas morning happier than I could recall. I boiled some potatoes, setting them in a skillet with globs of butter, chopped onions and doused with paprika. In a separate skillet, I fried that ham-steak, while working to scramble some eggs and coordinate the timing of my toast.
It was a kick-ass breakfast that I washed down with a quart of egg-nog. I fell asleep again in front of the television, with my cat curled on my chest.
I had not only survived a solitary Christmas; I relished it.
2.) Reindeer tracks
It was the Christmas of 2001. A few weeks prior, I met Laura Kidman and we began dating on a regular basis. She owned a small home in Old Orchard Beach and had two young sons that I had met just a couple of weeks before Christmas. I was the editor of a small, local newspaper. I drove a 1993 Ford Escort wagon with a really bad exhaust,
Between us, Laura and I did not have two nickels to spare, but I remember how warm and cozy her house felt when she invited me over on Christmas Eve. Looking back, the “cozy” feeling probably had something to do with the house being 550-square-feet.
The boys were still young enough to believe in Santa Claus. Tim was six, and Matt was four. I bought them each several presents, which were wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree after they went to bed. Laura’s sister had helped me pick out a necklace, which I would give to my future wife on Christmas morning. But as midnight, approached, I opted to give Laura a more significant gift.
A few years earlier, my mother had given me the Nativity set that I had grown up with. From that Nativity set, I removed the Joseph figurine and wrapped it carefully. When I gave Laura that gift, I explained that I would do my best to match Joseph’s love for a child that was not his own.
Before driving home, I went out to the front porch and leaned over with a broom to create reindeer tracks in the snow.
I went back to Laura’s home on Christmas morning to watch the kids open their presents and to point out that the reindeer had landed in the front yard. They believed it for a little while, but were relentless in interrogating me about it. It was a magical day, and I felt as if I had truly turned some kind of corner that could never be reversed.
Neither of these stories are intended to diminish the wonderful and magical Christmases of my youth. My parents outdid themselves at Christmas. We decorated the tree as a family, listening to Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis sing about the magic of the season. There was always, and I mean always, a giant orange tucked in the bottom of our stockings; my sister and I were often given matching pajamas on Christmas eve. We each had our favorite ornaments to hang on the tree. Fond memories, that must adapt to changing realities.
And what I realized today is that the more I have; the more comfortable I am, the more the magic and splendor of Christmas escapes me.
Because Christmas is not about stuff, credit-card balances, news headlines or any of the other things that can weigh us down throughout the rest of the year.
Christmas is a reprieve for those who choose to accept it.
No matter where you are, no matter your circumstance or fortune, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas