Deep and abiding memories of Christmas when I was a boy still run strong in my mind.
My dad strung the tree with red, blue, green, and yellow lights, which emitted a glowing rainbow in the dark. The family made fun of my father because he would insist on applying tinsel one strand at a time.
I remember painting schmaltzy balsa wood ornaments, something I long to do again with my kids, but which seem to be lost to time. I remember wanting to live wherever Charlie Brown lived (this, from a Texas boy), with its snow-filled streets, Christmas queens, and bright blinking stars.
But something happened, and the unfiltered joy of those times isn’t always possible to access. It echoes still, but all too often it feels blanketed by something undefinable.
It’s not the blues; it’s not depression. It’s life as a grownup, as a parent.
The weight becomes especially poignant around the holidays because, of course, that’s when unfiltered joy is missed the most.
The holidays are when you want the extra spring in the step, that extra tip of the hat, the dollar in the can. But these days it’s often hard to summon the crisp simplicity of Christmas. Completely putting aside concerns, fears, and anxieties, especially during Christmas, just isn’t possible, at least for me, and coming to terms with that is just a straight-up bummer.
Too ‘Grown Up’?
Raising children, loving a wife, working for something or somebody — perhaps I’m just too “grown up” to enjoy the simple singularities of emotion.
It’s not a new feeling. When I got married, I literally jumped in the air when my wife turned the corner to go down the church aisle and I saw her for what seemed like the first time. But lurking in the back in my mind was that ‘What are you doing?’ voice.
It wasn’t because I doubted loving her. It was because in my experience, the world tended to break things, not build them. We were embarking on a journey that the voice said — and that statistics confirm — was a sketchy bet.
When my first child was born, I was awestruck. The nurse had to tap me on the shoulder so my wife could hold the baby. Then, the voice: ‘You know you’re not at all equipped to do this correctly, right?’ The answer was yes — I knew that all too well. And yes, I was also terrified, thank you very much.
The holidays are the same. Some days are like living in a Charlie Brown story. “Christmas is coming,” he says. “But I just don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”Get in line, Chuck.
I’m not berating myself for not feeling all ‘Christmassy.’ It is what it is.
I just miss it. Even when seen through the eyes of my children, we adults often find ourselves at sea. Certainly, kids have a much greater capacity for unbridled joy. Thankfully, their happiness is more easily expressed, but even in them I see glimmers of an understanding that the sheer enormity of living can be plain hard.
From reading the news and listening to the radio, it’s clear many share these feelings, which is also a bit depressing. Maybe everybody struggles when it comes to Christmas. Maybe in a tragic reversal, the flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak.
Yet there is still hope.
A New Start
Christmas’s power is its promise of renewal. It is a time to hope that there may, in fact, someday be on earth peace and good will towards men. So far we’re not doing so well. And answers seem harder to come by.
But we keep pushing, don’t we? We keep hoping for that moment when the clouds part, the weight lifts and we are afforded that glimpse of “primal truth, as pure as ice,” as The Waterboys, the British band, sang. It’s not much, but it’s enough.
That’s what faith is, and the trait is present in almost all of us, atheist, agnostic or religious.
Linus makes me tear up every year when he explains to Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about — I’ll leave the literal interpretations to him. But for me, it’s a time to recommit to the struggle. It’s not about making every day like Christmas. It’s about holding on to the feeling that Christmas is coming. It’s the idea that there are better days ahead, friend, and you have to believe it, and work for it — or the weight will take you down.
And there’s pie.