The cold, the wind, the snow, buffered by holiday cheer and Yule tidings. This is a hard season, it focuses on our past and our present. It marks time, we reflect on the Christmas past with joy, remorse and a sense of longing for things beyond our grasp.
Christmas is hard wired into us from childhood, a holiday centered on gift giving for children. Time off from school, with special events and treats all built on the anticipation of even more treats on a night filled with magic. It is only natural that we as children should become addicted to it, and intoxicated by it.
As a boy of twelve, I lived in a quiet picturesque suburb south of Chicago. It was a town of seven thousand souls that had repeatedly voted down the installation of street lights. To raise money for charity and as a town project, the town sold luminaries. Candles in white paper bags weighted down with sand, participation was strongly encouraged and the costs were low. The town took care that all of the public areas would be included. On Christmas Eve the town was quiet and dark, save for the thousands of flickering candles. Each spaced evenly every twenty four inches apart all throughout the town.
It was breathtakingly poignant, with a quiet dignity that counterposed the crass Christmas commercialism. It was already a scene from a Norman Rockwell picture when it began to snow. Despite the cold and the darkness, I did not want to return inside. I wanted to absorb this scene of true Christmas wonder, of three or four square miles lit up only by candles, lit against a backdrop of falling snow on a cold Christmas Eve with a warm house awaiting me.
Perhaps the sorrow is relieved by our own children's Christmas. The joy in their little faces during those golden days. The days when they are easily amused and thrilled with inexpensive toys. With joyous curiosity and manic frenzy they rush from stocking to tree in wide eyed wonder. For a parent it is a fine elixir to balance out our own sense of loss.
As our children grow we continue to lose the building blocks of our own childhood's foundation. Aunts and Uncles pass on and at Christmas you remember them with your memories. Somehow, the season has changed and a tipping point has been reached. These aren't the Christmases that we once remembered. Even our children's joy has changed, they are no longer happy with a sled or ice skates. They want an X-Box with twenty nine games or a new three hundred dollar cellphone with accompanying two year agreement.
Christmas becomes a season of long distance phone calls, of a dull ache in the pit of our stomachs. A season where the children don't care anymore about putting up the tree because they would rather hang with their friends. This is their right of passage, their own ghost of Christmas past that will someday come to stalk them in their future. They do not know any better, they have too little time behind them to judge and understand the fragility of time as it lays ahead of them.
We are locked in, we cannot escape Christmas any more than Ebenezer Scrooge could. For many of us this makes Christmas almost a torture. A personal retrospective of our losses and our failings and of the things which wish were not so. A time of worry, for a Christmas bonus or even continued employment in the new year. Wal-Mart gave their employees a fine Christmas gift this year by announcing that they will no longer pay their employees a dollar an hour premium for working on Sundays. "God bless us everyone!"
A hundred thousand American's will receive a notice of foreclosure for the holidays. Christmas time doesn't exempt the organs of commerce. Profits must be counted and spirits ground down on all of the 365 days of the year. It reminds us of Christmas lost and of Christmas Hollywood and of Christmas unreal.
It forces us to question if Christmas is even viable any more, other than as a marketing tool? The excruciating Irony of Americans calling for peace on Earth and good will towards men. A government that spares the Thanksgiving turkey while it cooks our Christmas goose.
Over fifteen million unemployed and when you begin to include the underemployed, the discouraged and homeless you can begin to understand how hard a season Christmas can be. Nearly thirty million families in this country will endure this Christmas in financial crisis. Just trying to pay the rent, feed the children and keep the lights on, let alone provide them Christmas.
"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.