It’s Christmas Eve again. It rolls around every year around about December 24th whether I’m prepared for it or not. I’m a bit ambivalent about Christmas these days. I think it’s because I’ve had so many wrenching life changes so I don’t feel a lot of continuity in the holiday. And, at least to me, one of the most important reasons for holidays is for there to be a sameness, a uniformity, a tradition that carries on year to year so that we can feel connected to both past generations and those generations yet to come. I had one set of customs with my family of origin, but those have morphed over the years and, as I only make it home for Christmas every few years, most of those changes have happened without my being present for the decisions that have caused them to be implemented. Steve and I developed a different set during our years together. And then Tommy and I developed a completely different set. I haven’t yet figured out what I need to do to replace all of those with something that’s uniquely Andy.
What all of these erratic turns in life has gotten me is bin after bin of Christmas stuff in storage. Decorations bought for different houses and different tastes and different stages of life. No matter how much of it I get rid of or donate to theater companies needing stuff for holiday season shows, I always seem to have more. It breeds like rabbits in the corners and every time I venture down to storage, I find another bin filled with tinsel and baubles of various colors. It doesn’t help that both late husbands were very visual people and fond of holiday decorating. With thirty years between them, I’ve learned a trick or two myself and can put up all sorts of themed trees with a modicum of effort. I just wasn’t able to muster up the energy to do more than my music tree in the living room this year.
For Christmas 2020, the shut down Christmas and my first holiday season in the condo, I hauled all the boxes out and figured out how to put up six trees plus various other decorations. There were no holiday parties or performances that year so I had to content myself with something else. Decking the halls was it. I had a few other people in my bubble so I did have some help getting it all up and in place. I did very little last year as the omicron surge wiped out some plans and allowed me to unexpectedly go home to Seattle for a few days. This year will probably become the norm. One tree, the mantle, a few wreaths… We shall see. If I retire in the next few years, I may make a project of sorting all of the accumulated Christmas crap in new ways and come up with some completely new themed trees of some sort without having to actually buy anything new. I have boxes containing ornaments that haven’t seen the light of day for several decades.
Steve’s parents, especially his mother, grew up poor in rural Indiana. When they escaped the Midwest for Southern California in the early 50s, his mother used her post war prosperity to make beaded silk Christmas ornaments all through the year. Steve inherited several hundred of them, each representing many hours of her labor. We used them on our trees all through our time together. The Christmas after his death, I broke out the box in which they were stored each in their own little baggie. In the bag with his favorite one was a little note from him. ‘Andy – this is the only one I want you to keep. Love, Steve’. I took him at his word. I sent sets to his mother’s sister and cousins. I gave a set to each of my siblings and cousins. I still had plenty left that I used for a few years until I heard from Steve’s long lost niece. I sent her the remainder other than the one he had picked out for me. It’s on the tree in the living room and will always be part of whatever tree I have.
Tommy adored decorating for Christmas. He didn’t like the gift giving and commercialization of Christmas but he was all about holiday entertaining and holiday music. To him, Christmas was about the presence of others and showing them that they were important by feeding them. The first Christmas we had together after he moved in, he went whole hog insisting on the purchasing of a number of trees and swaths of garland. We began our traditions of Christmas Eve dinner and stockings for his family and our soon to become legendary Sunday after Christmas holiday open house. Those last few years, I don’t see how we made it through December. Getting the house ready, family dinner, Messiah with the symphony, prepping and producing the children’s pageant at church, holiday open house, Christmas Eve service. December was a marathon towards a New Years finish line. And then there was the year we were having the house painted in the middle of it and had to do a significant part of it from an extended stay hotel room…
I went to Christmas Eve candlelight service at church this evening. I’m sort of expected to show up when the choir is singing. I’ve always liked Christmas Eve carol services in any denomination. The Congregationalist in which I grew up, the UU to which I now belong. The Methodist and Episcopalian I have attended at various times. There’s something about singing carols that have been sung for centuries by people with the same general hopes and fears that I have that helps me feel grounded in human experience and connected with the world. I’m not especially religious but the nativity with its themes of light and hope in the darkest of times and that new life always brings with it a hope of salvation speaks to my brain on a very primitive level. We need that myth of hope, especially in the times in which we find ourselves.
Tonight’s service was uneventful. The choir sounded reasonable. We’re actually very good for an unauditioned choir without any ringers or paid members. We’re all there because we want to be there. And we have a director who is an excellent musician and who wants us to be the best we can be. And who isn’t afraid to get eclectic with our music selections – tonight’s ranging from a traditional French carol to ‘Holiday Road’ from the National Lampoon’s Vacation movies. It ended with the usual symbolism of candle lighting candle while the congregation sang Silent Night. I always hold my breath at this moment. Fifty years ago, at a similar service, my little brother managed to light the hair of the lady in the pew in front of us on fire with his candle. Her Aquanet went up in a whoosh of flame which my grandmother had the presence of mind to beat out immediately. The startled woman hadn’t a clue what was going on when the woman behind her started hitting her on her head. Fortunately, only her hairspray burned. Her hair and scalp were unharmed.
I have finished all of my must do stuff for the week so I have two days of relative torpor before I get on a plane and fly across the seas for a week. Going into travel diary mode shortly. Until then, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night and God bless us, everyone.