Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving is the gateway holiday

Holidays were always bittersweet. I have memories of about 2 Christmases with both my parents. After they split up, my dad wasn't around much. Ever. The last actual Christmas I remember seeing my father, I was 9. I was in the hospital at the time.

I grew up poor, but not impoverished. I was always encouraged to use my imagination, to play. Many of the Christmas or birthday presents I received were based on creativity. A miniature potter's wheel and clay. Art supplies. A collection of children's musical instruments. My mom was the master of no-money-fun. When I was growing up, the museums and the conservatory, (an arboretum, actually,) were not very expensive or were free. The library and museum being connected was always a wonderful thing, to me.

I never really felt deprived in the sense of not getting what I wanted for Christmas. I didn't really envy my schoolmates in terms of things.

I don't think I even realized we were poor until junior high school. Clothes became the demarcation line. Even going to catholic school and wearing uniforms, there were the Benetton sweaters and the Ralph Lauren Polo Shirts that I would never wear.

Over time, I understood that my mother didn't understand the things I wanted for Christmas, (yes, she always made me make a list.) I wanted books or music. Getting clothes was like torture. My grandfather once gave me a bible for Christmas. I was 7. It weighs 15 pounds. Um... Not so much.
My mother and I have very similar tastes as adults, but could not have been more different during my adolescence.

I rebelled by not rebelling. I became a good little preppie, whilst she got spike purple hair. Confused? So was I.
Eventually, I just started asking for gift cards. Then I started asking for nothing.
Because the level of misery I saw all around me during the holidays began to make me sad. I happened to work for more than eight years on the edge of ground zero for the holiday frenzy: a quarter mile from the mall.
No one ever looked happy. Everyone seemed frayed at the edges at best, on the verge of an emotional breakdown at worst.

Even when I was still practicing the religion I was raised in, I experienced cognitive dissonance at what the meaning of the holiday was supposed to be, compared with the way it was, "Celebrated."
Celebrating the promise of redemption for humanity by spending obscene amounts of money?
My standard answer has become, "There's nothing I need, and anything I want that I don't have is because I can't afford it, therefore you can't either."
What do I want for Christmas?
Peace on earth, goodwill towards men, women, furry creatures and all living things, including the planet we live on.
Serenity. Stillness. Love. Justice. Hope. That's what I really want.
You say, "C'mon, don't you want presents?"
Presents matter less to me than you'd think. I think that after many years of utterly disappointing birthdays, (4 weeks after Christmas, dead of winter, everyone's sick, it's football season, etc.,) during which I was ignored by a majority of my party guests, given thoroughly un-thoughtful presents and generally miserable, I stopped caring so much.
A truly thoughtful present is delightful, but an evening spent with people I care about, having a good time, is better.
I learned that if I really wanted something, I was better off planning for it myself.
That said, yes. Of course there are things I want. A netbook, a 1TB external hard drive, a new MP3 player, (leading contenders are Creative Zen and iPod Nano,) a trip to New Orleans, a trip to Paris, a new car. Someone at my beck and call to repair my house.
I don't have a sugar daddy and I don't have the money.
So what?
It doesn't make me unhappy. Happiness isn't something that can be derived from possessions. Happiness is found in connecting to other human beings, being loved, loving in return. Happiness is part of who we are, or it's not.
I'm happy when I do something I love, talk to someone that listens and to whom I never need explain myself in order to be understood.
I find myself wondering if we weren't bombarded with images and messages of consumption, would we be a healthier species? Of course we would.
I like Thanksgiving. I get to take a breath and look back on all the things I'm grateful for.
I also look forward to the blank slate of a new year approaching.
The month of December represents a helter-skelter of marketing-induced envy, guilt, and shame.
Not being able to afford things doesn't make you a bad person. Saying no to things you can't afford isn't a cause for guilt. That diamond necklace or XBOX isn't going to make you happy. Things don't equal love.  Love is the most important thing.

The last time I saw my father near the holidays, was when I was 30. He gave me a bracelet I've never worn, a couple of CDs I've never listened to and a language-learning audio course.
When I was 9, he gave me paperbacks of David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, 2 language books and an umbrella.
He knew me better then.

Thanksgiving was my Pap paps' favorite holiday. We always did Thanksgiving at my mom's parents. Christmas was at our apartment. I remember when our apartment was so small that my bedroom was literally the cupboard under the stairs and we had no room for a tree. My mom made a tree out of tinsel garland on the back of the door. I remember when we had real trees and we would decorate it together on Christmas eve. I remember when I believed in Santa and swore I heard sleigh bells on the roof. I remember my grandmother making fried dough, (plain, w/raisins, and ugh, w/anchovies,) and unwrapping presents. I remember having the flu for the umpteenth time on christmas. I remember my family around a table, happy.
The memories are what matter. Not the things
I miss my grandparents.
I miss the wonder of childhood.
Experience the wonder and let the stuff fade into the background. You'll remember more and enjoy it for longer.
As for me, I think I'm going to watch The Polar Express this weekend. For the wonder of it.
Happy Thanksgiving.

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