I remember when I looked forward to the fall of the year. The trees changing color, the start of school and the promise of new opportunity, the social whirlwind of Friday night football and holiday shopping -- all that stuff. Something about adulthood and the loss of innocence changes all that. Those with children are fortunate enough to live the wonder, if only vicariously, through their offspring. Others are content to simply to "remember when."
If you were to look at the first year of my weblog, the news of the day would be punctuated with my own personal sadness at one thing or another. But as Old Blue Eyes used to say: "Life is like the seasons; first comes winter, then the spring."
They say that the holiday season is the worst time of year for people with depressive conditions. When I was married, there was so much pressure to make everything perfect; for the child, for the wife, for the relatives, whoever was watching. I would be irritated at having to go through the motions for the sake of the camera -- here we are sitting down to dinner, here we are watching the little brats open each present, here's Uncle Dave sneaking downstairs to watch a movie, anything to get away from the charade. Where the hell's Uncle Dave; we need him to stand around and watch little Kevin open something and look surprised.
One of the few reliefs after my wife left, was not having to pretend anymore. I could be the man I was brought up to be, one who didn't take the holidays nearly as seriously. They were religious occasions, a time for reflection, for thanksgiving. Anything beyond that was gravy. It was one of several things my parents got right on the money. Even going back home last year, keeping things simple makes the little things more special. This includes Mom and Dad donning their "Santa's Elves" hats. (They may spend the whole day confined to matching La-zee-boys, but they're still a couple of madcaps at heart.)
One of the things I started doing with Paul some years ago, was giving one present for different occasions. Being raised Greek Catholic, the feast of Saint Nicholas on the sixth of December was a big deal for him, so he'd get a present then. He'd get a few more (including something from the grandparents) on Christmas Day itself, then something else on either New Year's Day (Saint Basil's Day on the Eastern calendar) or on Epiphany, the "little Christmas," which in my house is on January 6, as opposed to the nearest Sunday, which is what those lard-asses running the Church in this country decided years ago while attending to the important work of harboring perverts and child-porno collectors and oh let's not forget promoting social justice...
But, I digress.
I remember years when Christmas was just another holiday, like any other. When I was a sacristan at a parish in Georgetown in the early 90s, I'd work three Masses in the evening, go to sleep in the back room at 1:30 am, be up five hours later, and do three more Masses before being the last to lock up the place and go home, to a quiet dinner and a movie. If I didn't break down, it was a good year.
Paul's mother and I would take turns with him every other Christmas, with whoever went without him that year giving him their presents the evening before. In more recent years, Paul and I would actually have Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner at IHOP; for the latter, we would exchange presents then. Now that he's an adult, the understanding is that the alternating arrangement will continue. Paul will go to Cleveland for Thanksgiving this year.
But come Christmas, we'll all gather in The House That Hope Built. We will have attended Midnight Mass the evening before, a privilege I used to envy on the part of some of my grade school classmates. The storage boxes will be unpacked, all will be in its place, the tree will be decorated, and the Christopher Hogwood recording of Handel's Messiah* will be playing on the stereo. We'll sit down to a lovely dinner prepared by Sal, to be inaugurated by my singing a special carol on the guitar. Then we'll watch movies like Going My Way and White Christmas with Bing Crosby.
And while we're at it, we'll open presents. I might force Paul to be photographed wearing one of those "Santa's Elves" hats in exchange for receiving his presents (inasmuch as every man has his price). Other than that, posturing with feigned surprise for photos... will be optional.
* One of the few recordings of this oratorio that is worthy of the name. After all, why wouldn't you listen to one that employs the original Baroque instrumentation and choral arrangements, conducted by the man who made musical history with the global revival of such? Case in point, the part in "He Shall Purify" where the boys and men all join in the fugue -- "...and he shall purify the sons of Levi" -- which sounds like a chorus of angels emerging from the clouds. Who could listen to such voices lighter than air, in state-of-the-art surround-sound Dolby stereo, and not be moved?