Christmas Gone

Christmas is over.  I'm still not wrapping my mind completely around how different it is than it used to be.

I grew up totally immersed in Christmas.  Our family wasn't a church-going family so it really wasn't the religious version of Christmas, which is of course what Christmas really is, but neither was it the overdose of commercialism that takes place now.  Back in those days we weren't immersed in the media blitz of commercialism that we are now.  Instead it was a feeling that permeated our lives, starting slowly but grew and grew as the month of December progressed. 

It was an experience.  It was something to feel good about.

To me, Christmas season was things like the weather getting cold, playing in snow, the daylight hours getting shorter, the colored lights going up around the houses, the smells of homemade scented candles and pine needles in the house, the sounds of Christmas music wafting from the oversize stereo cabinet.  It was a huge experience.  It was anticipation, of course, because we knew we would get presents.  We also were raised knowing the difference between good and bad, and of doing the right thing.  When Christmas season came around, we put on our best behavior at all times because we knew that Santa would not be kind to us.  You know what though?  That mentality is what made the season so merry and bright.  Everyone just felt strangely good inside.  It also taught us to be good people.

I don't know when I first became aware of how good it felt to give gifts, but I know it was at a young age.  That was another facet of Christmas I loved as a kid.  I loved to watch someone's face as they opened a gift from me.  Hoping with all my heart that it would be the best gift anyone had ever given them in their whole life.  Kids aren't aware enough to notice the subtle little things about adults pretending to be impressed with a gift, but it didn't matter.  We gave with our hearts, and we meant it.

The Christmas experience started waning several years ago.  I don't remember when.  I don't remember even if it was before I was grown with a family of my own or not.  I do know that I experienced a resurgence of interest in it when my daughter was born though.  My life was intensely focused on her childhood experiences of Christmas.  I didn't just give her things, we had rituals of going out driving, looking at the displays of Christmas lights that people had put up on their homes.  We played music, we read Christmas stories, and we watched Christmas movies.  I lived my life through my daughter's eyes.

When I divorced it was a time of turmoil.  On one hand I was relieved that it was behind me.  On the other hand, there was loneliness.  My first Christmas was one of an empty apartment.  No tree, no decorations, no nothing.  I remember taking walks and looking at Christmas lights, but it was weird--like a past life.  The following year I told myself I was going to make a halfhearted attempt at putting some Christmas into my stark apartment.  I bought a tree and all the decorations to make it look like a Christmas tree, but it wasn't the same.  Something was missing.  Sure, it was a fake tree, but that wasn't it.  It went deeper.

Now I'm married to a fantastic woman that doesn't celebrate Christmas.  Do I feel remorse?  No.  Do I feel like something is missing?  Maybe.  I can't quite put my finger on it.  Part of me is glad that I don't have the same pressures of gift-giving that I once had.  I know that Christmas gift-giving has become a requirement, and for many people has dropped to the point of being an obligatory checklist affair.  That part I don't miss.  But I miss something.  Maybe it's just the fact that there is nothing.  Maybe that's it.  I see Christmas lights all around, but I don't even feel the desire to go driving around to look at them.  It's just different.

Now Christmas this year is behind me, and it's almost like it never happened.  I guess I want the "magic" feeling that Christmas used to provide.  The childhood innocence and the wonder.  Now when I go to work someone (probably multiple people) will ask me, "Did you have a good Christmas?" Part of me wants to say, "What Christmas?" or "No, I didn't have a Christmas."  No, instead I'll say, "Sure... you?"

It's just not worth explaining.