Well, we made it to December.
I haven’t been ignoring this blog. Rather, I’ve been doing inventory of a massive haul of cool photos that my uncle very kindly scanned for me, and outlining some stories I would like to tell with them. I’m relieved that there’s only about 10 days left in this year. 2020 has been a total avalanche of shit, frankly. Personally, I was laid off from my job in May and have had to try to figure out who I am outside of my work. I don’t know yet and I’m not totally enjoying the process, but it’s what’s happening right now. It’s tempting to wrap myself in bitterness and anger as I watch 2020 end. There seems to be a mounting pile of peripheral bummers making everything worse – we can’t see our family or friends, budgets are tight, shipping is all messed up. I also don’t have any religious sentiment to prop up the holiday. I’ve caught myself wondering why we’re trying to make this happen.
I grew up with all the classic Christmas specials. My papou’s favorite was “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” from 1966. We watched it every year, and I cannot accept substitutes. Even when I’m reading the book, I can hear Boris Karloff narrating the Grinch’s doomed efforts to ruin the happiness of Whoville. And this is the one I’ve caught myself thinking about the most this month.
When I think about Christmases past, I don’t remember many gifts. A few big ones, but they don’t dominate my memories. We used to get real trees and I can remember the smell. I remember waiting impatiently for my papou to enter with bells and a Santa hat, the signal we could open presents with my dad’s family. I remember Uncle Bobby telling me and my cousins on Christmas Eve that he was going to keep the fire going in the fireplace, just to give Santa a surprise (which is a messed up thing to say to a kid, but kind of funny). If we were with my mom’s family, we got to stay up late on Christmas Eve and open presents early. My nana and papou always had a big, stately tree with ornaments from classy department stores that looked impressive in their den with a vaulted ceiling. A very Long Island tree. My grandma and grandpa in Kentucky, by contrast, always had a small tree that could sit up on a table, with antique ornaments, dripping with shiny tinsel. They were polar opposites and I loved both of them. And if I reach way back into childhood, I can remember my grandma’s Christmas parties. She would always wait to have it until we came down from New Jersey to visit. I remember darting around grown-ups to get to the food and pretending to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the back room with the other kids, all in a scratchy dress that I was very proud of.
I remember coming home for Christmas from college and going into Manhattan with my friends to see the Rockefeller tree, the windows at Bergdorf’s, the Christmas markets at Bryant Park and Union Square. We almost never bought anything except for hot chocolate and a ton of delicious fries from Pommes Frites to turn our stomachs into heaters. That trip would take all day, and my feet would ache from the walking (why take the subway when everything in New York is decorated?), but every second was worth it.
I remember going to get the tree with my husband (then fiance) in the first apartment we had together, in Cambridge. We hadn’t even been there a month yet, and we really didn’t have room for one if we were honest. We got a blue fir, a tree that I’m allergic to, and it made my hands red and splotchy when I touched it. But it was the first thing that made the place feel like ours, instead of a collection of two people’s stuff.
And every year on Christmas Eve I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and cry at the end.
None of that is really going away this year. I won’t be able to be with everyone I normally see, but I’m not alone. We can toast on Zoom and take comfort that we kept each other safe. I’ve got a candle that smells exactly like the Christmas trees I remember growing up. I have ornaments from my grandparents and from my parents for our own tree. We’ll have some nice food and warm stomachs and enjoy my decorating effort, sub-Bergdorf’s but not too shabby. We’ll watch “It’s A Wonderful Life”. And all the packages, boxes, and bags that are delayed or lost or just unbought are the least of my worries.
We live in a world run by Grinches whose hearts haven’t grown yet. Maybe they never will. It doesn’t matter. We all deserve some solstice cheer right now, some lights in the dark. We’ve earned it.
Christmas Day will always be, just as long as we have we.