One should not cheat at Christmas, but I did ... I backdated this post to December 25 at 11:11 p.m. to disguise the fact that I was so utterly exhausted by my part in consuming the groaning board of seasonal delights at the Coleman's that I in fact went to bed with a post in my mind but not on the net. But I did think about this post last night, and so I employ the tiny vanity of prolonging Christmas by a few hours so I can post within its confines.
So in that spirit, I refer you to Maureen Dowd's compelling Boxing Day post on her Christmas love of Trigger the hobby horse. Dowd is by turns enthralling and annoying ... and in that she has succeeded in something to which other lesser lights, myself included, aspire. She concludes with this:
In a piece reprinted in the Kennedy anthology, Henry van Dyke writes: “Are you willing ... to own, that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness ... to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings ...? Then you can keep Christmas.”
I remember Christmas as a time of plenty in our family. My Dad's business through much of my childhood always did very well in December, and I long suspected that my parents took advantage of the windfall to buy us clothing and sundries that would last a year. Christmas morning was an avalanche of stuff in a life where we were taught not to ask for things for ourselves. I remember the year I got a bike ... I was 10, and the rule was that you got your first bike at 10. I remember the year that I asked for a fort for my imaginary kingdom, Animelia, and its china King Elfie. That wooden fort, minus its draw bridge, is sitting on a chest a few feet from me as I write this, now a part of my annual ludicrously over-the-top Christmas decorating madness.
On Christmas morning, we would wake the parents vastly earlier than they would have preferred, and finally Father would descend the steps to turn on the Christmas tree. Every year he would call up, "You might as well go back to bed, the old bugger didn't come this year." The old bugger was Santa Claus, of course, and he had come, no doubt. We descended into this glittering excitement in reverse order of age, so I, as the oldest, was always last. No matter. There in front of the tree were Santa's gifts. It was the one day in the year on which we could safely think of ourselves first.
I had a "tradition" of not eating any meal on Christmas except Christmas dinner. This was a successful ploy to skip the porridge which was our every morning lot. I ate candy instead, and focused on playing with my new toys.
The toys are fewer now, and the gifts are mostly books. I buy my own toys, which is what adulthood is about. I suppose I am an old grump, but I feel sorry for children who buy their own and get what they want whenever they want. It must make the magic of Christmas so pedestrian for them. Christmas was then only one day as it still is, but it was the peak of the year, the highest joy, the reward for a year of obeying and striving and doing your part. It was a day apart from others, and that gave life some contours which still abide in me today.
Yesterday ... ooops, I suppose I should say this morning, given my conceit that I am writing this on Christmas Day ... I went on a two-hour walk with Loki, my dog. Christmas back then always had Laddie, our dog, who was invited into the living room only on that one day. Otherwise, dogs stayed in the hallway. I am sure we have a photo of him somewhere in the living room. I remember that he was very sheepish about it, but obviously aware too that this was a day unlike other days.
So the walk with Loki ... I wore my Christmas hat. (The photo above is of me and my Christmas hat in 2005 ... I look about the same now except without the long locks.) I inherited the Christmas hat from my friend Kurt who reintroduced me to the joy and uniqueness of Christmas. Kurt died in 1992, and he left me all his Christmas things. The party every year is for Kurt. And when I walk about in his hat ... my hat now ... I try to beam Christmas for him and for me. One gets a lot of looks, and I turn each of those looks into a jolly Merry Christmas. Perhaps one in three folks have the good manners to beam back "Merry Christmas", and I feel sorry for the rest who have lost that public sense of joy, not able to "make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings". Perhaps I am being self-righteous ... perhaps the quiet ones think I am a madman trying to interpelate myself into their private lives. No matter. Nothing for me is so joyous as the Christmas Day walk in the Christmas hat wishing the passing celebrants a Merry Christmas.
Two Merry Christmas's I remember in particular. A few years back, walking home at night through the Haight from Kerry's Christmas Eve party, I saw a young thuggish looking guy sitting on the steps of a church at Page and Masonic ... glowering, tough ... I briefly feared he might steal my hat. As I passed, I said Merry Christmas, and his face transformed, beamed, as he cried back to me, Merry Christmas to you. Yesterday, I passed a homeless man with an angry look and disheveled dress, and he too beamed with delight and returned my Merry Christmas in a sonorous southern accent.
And so to anyone reading this at any time of the year ... Merry Christmas to you and to those you love.