Thursday, December 6, 2007

Christmas Spirit?

So here I am at age two, happy and carefree, posing in my little winter suit, doubtless anticipating - eagerly, despite the dubious look on my face - Santa's Christmas visit. (Yes, little boys were dressed up like this in 1966.) I remember being so excited about Christmas that falling asleep on Christmas eve always proved nearly impossible. By December 24th I had watched the litany of Christmas specials - from Charlie Brown to the Grinch - with rapt attention. Santa had been visited and my wishes revealed. All I had to do was wait - albeit impatiently - for the 25th.

Now my kids, at ages seven and eight, are at that stage of Christmas excitement. Every day they ask, "When's the tree going up?" and "When are we visiting Santa?" I enjoy their excitement and naturally see myself as a child mirrored in their behavior. But this year I'm having a hard time feeling that Christmas spirit. Mind you, I'm no Scrooge, awaiting the visit of Marley's ghost. But I'm likewise not "keeping Christmas" in my heart in the manner of Scrooge after the three hauntings. I simply haven't felt "Christmasy" yet, which is an odd feeling for someone who has always enjoyed thoroughly the trappings and rituals of the season. (I also enjoy the realization that many of our Christmas practices tap into that pre-Christian culture of Europe as a source of inspiration.)

Perhaps it's my frustration with the whole commercialization issue, which I've discussed here ad nauseum. There's also the religious hemming and hawing attendant with the season. And the painful fact of sensory overload, from overdone decorations to the never-ending loop of Christmas music blaring at my corner market, likely plays a role as well. The only bit of Advent or Christmas expression that has elicited the joy characteristic of the season has been a piece of music by Paul Manz: "E'en So Lord Jesus, Quickly Come," a modern piece that sounds ancient, like one of the lovely Medieval Christmas hymns many of us invariably sing at Christmas eve services. I know, I know. Isn't that an awfully religious work for someone whose doubts about the "miracles" of Christmas run quite deep?

For me, however, the tune means much more. Ten years ago I spent the week after Thanksgiving lying in a New York hospital, recovering from a bit of gastrointestinal trauma. That first Sunday after Thanksgiving happened to be the first Sunday of Advent. My wife - my fiancee at the time - sang in the choir of an Episcopal church and left my bedside for rehearsal and a church service. Knowing I loved this song, she used her cell phone to call my room during the service, at the moment the choir was singing the Manz piece. So I lay in my hospital bed and listened as she and the choir sang, the phone resting on the bench next to her. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced. I lay there and sobbed through the whole piece. Now, ten years later, this song still grabs me, regardless of the season. More than anything else perhaps - Santas, trees, decorations, or TV specials - this song instills a meager measure of the Advent and Christmas spirit amidst my doubt and uncertainty.


Isabel said...

What a lovely lovely thing for your wife to do!
The true "miracles" of Christmas are exactly the tiny things that mean so much to us.
By the way...I am sure your kids must have loved to see you in your Christmas outfit :)
I know how mine always love when we take the old albums out (something we do often, just for laughs) and we talk about the "old days".
Something else we do in the spirit of the season is to read Christmas cards and letters from previous years (yes, I am an incorrigible pack rat). We display them on a glass plate for anyone who wants to read them, and at the end of the season we had a few more to the collection.

jblack designs said...

What a lovely post. I swear, I almost teared up. As good of a Christmas story as one gets.

I do think that starting the season so early (ergo creating more shopping fever) makes it problematic to "feel" the season. I found myself humming along with a Christmas carol loop in a store the other day and thought, "No--stop--or you'll be sick of it by Christmas."

In the last few years I've seen Christmas trees out by the trash on the afternoon of the 25th! Too much anticipation can ruin a good thing.


One Wink at a Time said...

I have, myself, been slipping in and out of the Spirit, as is my usual pattern before settling in (the Spirit) for the duration of the Holiday. I must tell you though, your wife's gift has been a lovely inspiration that could well nudge me over the edge...
And yeah, well, I cry at the drop of a hat these days and this was no exception. Good, happy tears, tho'.

Biscuit said...

That is a beautiful memory to have!

I have "issues" with Christmas. It's all the EXTRA. I have a hard enough time getting the basics accomplished, EXTRA just sends me into panic attacks. This year I'm trying really hard to have more Christmas spirit, for my children's sake and because it has been such a bad 3 months. We need some cheer around here.