Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Passed; Good King Wenceslas

I'm not much for Christmas. That hurts to say, but it's been a few years coming. It feels tired, forced, fake. Blame Walmart and Target, for putting Christmas shit out in September next to the back to school shopping. Blame consumer America for Black Friday and Cyber Monday and all the other fanfare and crap that killed Kenny and Christmas all at once.

How about we blame Charles Dickens? I mean I'm a Dickens fan, but you tell me if you could pick between what Christmas is now, and this:

... in medieval times, peasants and lords alike celebrated Christmas with a twelve-day rager, glomming the Nativity onto the pagan feasts of Saturnalia and the Winter Solstice to create a super-holiday full of carol singing, gift-giving, raucous game-playing, the burning of Yule logs, and a whole hell of a lot of drinking.

Sign me up. That sounds like Festivus before the Costanza's came up with the feats of strength. In the fantastic article quoted above, Richard Michael Kelly connects the publication of "A Christmas Carol" to the lame popular public celebration of Christmas we have today.

Nostalgia at Christmas time isn't a new thing. Dylan Thomas felt it too. His "A Child's Christmas in Wales" is the one story I read every year. To myself, mind you. Thomas connects history and his memories in recalling:

Years and years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and snowed... Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely white-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards.

Get a poet reminiscing about snow, and let him/her roll.

I'm not Charlie Brown here, wondering about the true meaning of Christmas. I've born witness to folks and communities that get it. Doug Hanks Jr. and the town of Oxford with the dock trees in Town Creek come to mind. Going down there last year with Joel Shilliday to get photos of the lit up creek, or talking with Henry Hale about how and why the trees continue to get out there and how so much of the town is into it. That's a bit of what Christmas is, or should be.

My favorite part of Christmas every year growing up was the fact that my grandparents from Towson would drive down and stay Christmas Eve, wake up with us on Christmas morning, and sometimes stay the next night. Sure, presents rocked, but seeing their car turn onto E. Division Street in Oxford, and helping them unload the car, that is Christmas to me as much as anything will be.

I'm not sure what traditions my girls are inheriting. Each year, the three of us have gone to Hutchison's Christmas Forest and cut down a tree, but this is their last year. We don't go overboard on Christmas gifts, but I guess there is the stress of gifts, followed directly by January and February birthdays. But Christmas feels like a fake facade town, set up with just the building fronts leaning against two-by-fours, that a strong wind will take down.

Christmas, even in sight of what it is all about, feels like a going through the motions and has for the past few years. The girls are super excited Christmas morning and day, they spend time with family, eat, play with their booty (toys people, their loot, come on ;), but I need to get myself back in the spirit.

For me, the solid memories of Christmas past, seems heading firmly in the direction of Christmas passed.

I don't have an answer. Maybe it's a search. Maybe a quest. But if you will indulge me with letting Dylan Thomas ramble again, he has something of it here:

Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the fire as the gaslight bubbled like a diver. Ghosts wooed like owls in the long nights when I dared not look over my shoulder; animals lurked in the cubbyhole under the stairs where the gas meter ticked. And I remember that we went singing carols once, when there wasn't the shaving of a moon to light the flying streets. At the end of a long road was a drive that led to a large house, and we stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night, each one of us afraid, each one holding a stone in his hand in case, and all of us too brave to say a word. The wind through the trees made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing in caves. We reached the black bulk of the house.

"What shall we give them? Hark the Herald?"

"No," Jack said. "Good King Wenceslas. I'll count three."

One, two, three, and we began to sing, our voices high and seemingly distant in the snow-felted darkness round that house that was occupied by nobody that we knew. We stood close together, near the dark door.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen...

And then a small, dry voice, like the voice of someone who has not spoken for a long time, joined our singing: a small, dry, eggshell voice from the other side of the door: a small dry voice through the keyhole. And when we stopped running we were outside our house; the front room was lovely; balloons floated under the hot-water-bottle-gulping gas; everything was good again and shone over the town.

A group of boys go caroling on a completely dark night, to a house they don't know. They are afraid. They bust out an old song they know. They connect with a total stranger, which may well have encompassed his whole Christmas. They run like hell back home and all is right with the world.

Unscripted. Spur of the moment. Out of the comfort zone. Spontaneity, fear, human connection to a stranger. Merry Christmas.

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