In the last few days, I have come to two conclusions. First, I have completely crossed the line from childhood to adulthood with regards to Christmas. Second, the grass is only greener over here because there isn’t any snow. These conclusions have been building since Thanksgiving ended with Caleb and I unable to find a single radio station playing Christmas music on our drive home and have risen to a fizzling climax when I realized I wouldn’t wake up with a stocking at the foot of my bed. I feel like the white noise of holiday movies and particular Christmas songs has broken through to discernible communication. I finally understand the mystery of the Christmas Unicorn.
For a while, I couldn’t describe what I was beginning to understand outside of the expression, “It doesn’t feel like Christmas.” This being my first Christmas outside of school, I believe this has something to do with the lack of organized Christmas activities. As a musician, I often found December frustrating in its profusion of gigs and performances and holiday concerts. Now I miss the chaos. I never thought I would miss running from the end of semester stress by staying up all night to turn our suite into a police crime scene for Grandma (complete with hoof prints) or painting Charlie Brown stripes onto a wall hanging. I never realized how much the season was dictated by teachers and professors doing holiday themed lesson plans (Where else do you get to read “A Child’s Christmas in Wales?) or the Christmas music one boys’ dorm blasted from their bathroom window. Christmas was made from these things. I couldn’t get away from playing varied arrangements of “The Nutcracker Suite” or “Carol of the Bells”. I had to if I wanted to make music in an organized context. Christmas was handed to me in the holiday assemblies no one cared about and the bizarre sports tradition of my university. I couldn’t get away from Christmas and I never wanted to. And then I graduated.
There was no holiday concert or Christmas open house. Caleb and I went to two Christmas parties, but they weren’t enough to make the season. I saw the Christmas decorations at work, but they weren’t enough to set a mood or set apart a month. Caleb and I have some Christmas decorations, but we haven’t collected enough to fully change the atmosphere of our apartment. And then there is work.
My professor dad was always home for Christmas, even if he had to spend the first few days of Christmas break immersed in grading. The volunteering positions Mom always held took Christmas off. My family never had to worry if we would be able to celebrate on Christmas Day. Now though, I have a job in the food industry. I ended up getting enough time off to be able to spend Christmas with both families, but I didn’t know for sure until last Saturday. We spent weeks unsure of how our holiday was going to look. And then there has been the atmosphere of my job.
In school, the stress of the end of the semester is always countered with the frantic relief of Christmas break. The hope of no school tempers the stress just enough to keep everyone mostly happy. No such illusions remain in the food service. We get to see everyone stressed from shopping, cranky from late night parties, and exhausted from their children’s extra energy. And of course, they take it out on us.
“What? Your chargrilled machine is down?” *huff* *sigh* “Look, never mind. Just give me…I don’t know. Just give me a number one. I don’t care.”
“What would you like to drink?”
“I said I don’t care! Give me whatever. I don’t care.”
“Miss? Where’s our food? We’ve been waiting for too long!”
“I’m so sorry, ma’am. We’re working on getting your food out to you as soon as possible.” [and if you hadn’t stopped me, I would have been on my way up to the counter, probably to grab it.]
“This is ridiculous. It’s been ten minutes!”
“I’m so sorry. We’ll get it out to you as soon as possible.”
Our drive thru is filled with unhappy shoppers, people who don’t want to make decisions I can’t make for them. Last year, I would not have believed how angry and stressed Christmas makes the majority of American citizens. Now I do. I understand why they fill their cars with shopping bags and pump themselves with caffeine.
When we are children, Christmas is made for us. We are happy consumers of candy canes handed out by teachers and Christmas cookies at Sunday School. Christmas music is everywhere. We don’t have to think about how all of the songs have sleigh bells. We don’t have to confront the bizarre balance of holiness and paganism. Our parents do that for us. Even as thinking college students, dorms and societies have Christmas traditions that we easily get slotted into. Once we reach adulthood however, Christmas is not handed to us. We have to make everything. We have to figure out how to put the lights on the Christmas tree, how much money we can fit into the present budget. We have to buy the presents or there won’t be any. We have to choose which Christmas music matters, which Christmas traditions matter, which family events we can attend, which ones we have to miss. The burden is overwhelming.
We’re left with two options. First, we can become cynics, spitting about how Christmas doesn’t mean anything. The cynics just don’t go for decorations or Christmas music. They live through December like any other part of the year. They stay away from the hubbub, or they participate in anti-Christmas events. Listening to Steve Martin SNL rants, bitter Christmas music, or Christmas horror movies. Let’s pretend that Christmas doesn’t exist, that it can’t hurt us. Second, we can become Christmas addicts. We can get so hungry for the prepared Christmas of the past that we attack it like starving men. We stuff ourselves with decorations and music and movies and ugly sweater parties. This is the attitude that fills Love, Actually. “Christmas is when we tell the truth,” “Christmas is when you stay with family.” We know these things are lies, but we don’t want to believe it. We want to pretend that Hollywood and ABC can be the providers of our Christmas. We become blind to truth because we don’t want to hear it.
I know there’s some place in the middle. I know there’s a middle ground of Christmas producers. Somewhere, people have decided to find magic in simplicity. I know that Jesus is involved here because the Holy Spirit is so good at taking that sort of pressure off. In this land, the meaning of Christmas comes through intentionality. I’m not sure how to get there right now. The confusion of emerging adulthood is too great. But someday, I hope I can find a place where I am neither jaded nor frantic. I long for peace. I guess I’m longing for the Restoration. Maybe if I follow that longing, if I create out of that longing, I’ll find this place after all.