(Before anyone freaks out, I’m not planning to stick a gun barrel in my mouth and eat a bullet.) Thanksgiving is officially over. We did the big dinner at my house today due to conflicting work schedules, but at last that little bit of mania is behind me. I find myself wishing that was an end to the holiday season, but for most people it was the starting bell. Now comes the season of unfettered buying and people digging themselves in credit holes so deep the only way out is to pay Charon to take you across the Acheron.
Christmas lights started going up on houses in my neighborhood right after Halloween (possibly Halloween night, no doubt a knee-jerk reaction to that most pagan of holidays). I never put lights up that early, but I used to get very excited about Christmas and actually enjoyed seeing all the displays. The sight of strings of lights decorating houses and businesses used to instantly transport me, like fairy magic, out of the mundane world of work and chores, and for that brief time I felt happier. Then a few years ago I realized, with some dismay, that didn’t happen anymore. Whether people had lights up or not made no difference. I was completely unmoved by the strands and webs of twinkling white or multi-colored lights. Even elaborate animated displays couldn’t touch my spirit. Ditto beautifully wrapped packages. Christmas shopping was just another chore on the list. Suffice it to say, I had, and continue to have, zero Christmas spirit.
Now, some of you may be asking if this shift occurred when I left Christianity and embraced paganism. It’s not that easy. Pagans love a good party, and the Yule season is full of them. Most Christmas traditions (holly and ivy, the Yule log, decorating trees, wassail, exchanging gifts) are all pagan in origin. If anything, that should have given me a lift. The only thing that did seem to stick with me and cheer me at all was the music. And I don’t mean Feliz Navidad or Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, either of those was about enough to send me straight to Hades. I started collecting classical and obscure Christmas music, some of it so beautiful I didn’t confine listening to it to just December. I’d bust it out in July if I felt like it. Not so now.
It took a long time, but this year I realized what sucked the life out of this season. I understand now why there are so many more suicides during the Christmas season. For people with no close family, it can be almost unendurable. Sure, I have some family, but the ones who live close by have little interest in the things that make the season special – spending time together, carrying on traditions. It can be a very lonely time. I miss my parents, both long gone now. I miss my sisters. They’re all still alive, but we’re scattered, and in some cases estranged (for good reason). Even if we were together now it wouldn’t be the same. It seems to get worse with every passing year. I remember my mother feeling the same, while still encouraging me to try to hang onto that merriness as I decorated the house. I suppose there’s no way to get back the innocent joy of the season. Part of it is a lack of roots. I feel like I don’t really belong anywhere. No matter where I go and what I do now, it’s new. I am longing for that sense of familiarity, of history. I’m not sure I could even recapture it if I were to move back to my childhood home in New England. I have vivid memories of winter in Massachusetts, of parents driving to school in snow, of sliding down snowy hills on our butts on our walk to school, ice skating on homemade rinks of timbers and water-filled plastic in a neighbor’s backyard, and infrequently on Lake Quannapowitt (I understand this is no longer possible. I have been told recently that the lake has not frozen over in over ten years).
There’s a sense of being out of time, out of place. I suppose I’m haunted by my own ghosts of Christmases Past. Instead of trying to ‘cheer up’ I think I’m going to go with it and write a Christmas ghost story. Watch this space.