It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe/Maybe this year will be better than the last -the Counting Crows
Heard the eternal footman bought himself a bike to race -Tori Amos
…and I, as secret as yon buried stream, plod dumbly on and dream. -Archibald Lampman
The “Christmas spirit,” whatever that is, has eluded me this year. I don’t know why. All I know is that in my typical obsessive introverted way, I’ve been worrying all month about not feeling whatever it is I’m supposed to feel. I put up decorations, baked cookies, played Christmas carols ad nauseam, and still I don’t feel “Christmassy.”
I’m not a grinch. Not The Grinch, anyway. And I’m not Scrooge. But it suddenly seems interesting to me that so many Christmas stories center around a villain who is evil because he does not like Christmas. There’s always someone trying to kill the joy, whether it’s a Muppet or a cartoon character, an abominable snow monster or a bad boss. If you’re not frolicking around a tree and spewing Christmas magic, you’re not with the good guys. And even the bad guys must be reformed in the end, from the Grinch’s plus-sized heart to the crusty old newspaper editor in Christmas in Connecticut, one of my favorite classics.
This year, I’m afraid I’m in the ranks of the bad guys.
Now, please understand. I haven’t attempted to eat any of Santa’s reindeer or turned a family of Muppet mice out into the London cold. I didn’t set out to be grinchy this year, and I’ve tried to spread cheer even though I haven’t felt it. But somehow, the magic of the season has eluded me.
Luckily my Christmas slump doesn’t appear to have been contagious. For my two little boys, this holiday was just as magical as ever. Santa ate his cookies and drank his milk, filled stockings, and left a letter thanking my oldest for making him a jingle bell bracelet, and letting my three year old know that the jolly old elf appreciates the humor of inserting the word “stink” into every Christmas song imaginable.
But I didn’t feel it, and I’m left at the end of the year wondering how the magic passed me by.
It’s been a long December. It’s been a long year. My thoughts keep returning to the parents of twenty children in Connecticut who didn’t open their presents this year. There’s a Hurricane Sandy-struck family of four (expecting a fifth) living in a FEMA-provided hotel room in Times Square, buying cereal and TV dinners at Walgreen’s because it’s the only place in the glitzy area that takes food stamps. As if the presidential race didn’t leave us all bludgeoned enough, now we’re watching the Congress we elected stall and debate and bicker like bratty kids about economic issues that will have little to no impact on them, with their self-awarded pay raises, but will affect the ability of millions of ordinary Americans to just get by. Oh, and there was that whole Mayan end-of-the-world, let’s-all-freak-out-even-though-we-have-no-idea-what-we’re-talking-about thing.
Time is tricksy. Parts of this year were nearly interminable, while other parts have flown. When I was a kid, the Eternal Footman scootched around on a walker with tennis balls on the ends. But he’s like Merlin; he grows younger as I grow older, and he grows faster, too. He’s got a sweet road bike these days, and for the first time this year, I looked at my children and felt, not just intellectually knew, that they would not be small and sweetly annoying and innocent and children forever. No Lost Boys magic is going to slow that march.
So, 2012, I need you to know that our relationship is complicated, and I don’t know what to think of you yet. I don’t know how I’ll tell my kids about us when they’re older and want to know why bad things happen to good people and why a lot of our leaders seem to care more about their pockets and their egos than their nation.
Maybe I won’t have to tell them. Maybe things will have changed. It’s ridiculously optimistic to hope so, I suppose, but despite my utter lack of Christmas cheer, there’s a faint flicker in my heart on this cold, long, dark night of the soul.
Outside, the moon is shining down on a glossy layer of snow, broken by the footprints of my children and the tracks of our sleds. Etched by the toes of chickens and punctuated by the hooves of the deer that eat from our birdfeeder at night. Printed by the paws of a little dog we hope will still be with us next Christmas. Like this year, the snow is imperfect, marked with flaws and stories, signs and wonders, ephemeral hieroglyphs that trace the story of a year. The snow shelters the raw cold earth, smooths out its rough places, hides what’s ugly, and holds the earth close as it waits.
Maybe the magic passed me by this year. But I believe in spring. And so, I plod dumbly on, and dream…