It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

Chapel Hill News logoNovember 29, 2009

With Jim Carrey’s “A Christmas Carol” already in the theaters, I’m thinking about Scrooge and my own ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future.
What bubbles up from my childhood are those awkward years when Dad insisted we celebrate Christmas on Epiphany, 12 interminable days after the official holiday.

Imagine this scenario: It’s the first day back at Witherspoon Street Junior High School after the New Year. Everybody’s talking about all their gifts” clothes, LPs, gadgets. Somebody asks me, “Hey, what did you get?” and I say, “Well, uh, we haven’t celebrated yet. We get our presents on January 6.”

If you ever need to silence a passel of shrieking, locker-slamming, pubescent girls, that will do it – tell them you haven’t had Christmas yet and it’s January. After a drop-jawed pause, the leader of the popular pack will announce, “That’s weird.”

I agreed. But my Quaker dad loathed what he called, “the bald consumerism posing as a celebration of Christ’s birth.” I heard later, in a revisionist take on our family history, that my parents did Twelfth Night because back then the sales didn’t start until after Christmas – and my folks were always broke. This much I do know. Christmas, whenever it came, was never lavish. Excess was considered gauche.

Moving rapidly down the decades, I pause at a sorry Christmas day over a decade ago. Our daughters still laugh about it. “Can you believe Mom completely forgot to think about Christmas dinner that year,” one will say, “and we had nothing but soup and cereal in the house?”

“But, hey,” I’ll add, “we went out for Chinese.”

“Yeah and that little boy barfed at the buffet,” the other daughter says, “and we left before we even sat down. Remember?”

“And no other restaurants were open?” the first one chimes in.

That evening, as we drove past one “closed” sign after another, I think I began to understand what a Jewish friend meant when he told me, “Christmas can be one of the loneliest days of the year.”

Segue to Christmas Present: If my parents were raising children now, they wouldn’t have to wait for bargains; these days price slashing starts at Halloween. And did you notice that the downtown snowflake ornaments were up and sparkling well before Thanksgiving? The Ram Plaza outdoor Christmas tree store has been ablaze in white bulbs for weeks; it’s as bright as an Arab wedding tent. Clearly, the holidays have arrived. The pressure is on.

I guess I am my father’s daughter because I simply don’t buy in. And our children are adults now. Maybe someday we’ll be blessed with a new generation of breathless little believers, and that will change things, but this year the toddler in our midst will be our older daughter’s petite Manhattan cat named Mimi, who, we’re hoping, our beefy calicos won’t smother.

We’ll have a tree and, no doubt, we’ll shatter more of those delicate heirloom ornaments from my childhood, the colorful balls with silver collars and rusty little hooks that look like twisted paper clips.

This year, with our extended family, we will celebrate our younger daughter’s graduation from college, her new teaching license, and her hard-earned new MacBook. “What more could I possibly want or need?” she asks,” except a job and a hollow chocolate Santa?” We will enjoy carols and long walks and good food and each other’s company.

Christmas future? In the venerable 1938 Reginald Owen version of “A Christmas Carol,” a scary grim reaper leads Scrooge through a dark graveyard and shines his lantern on the old miser’s inscribed headstone. Nobody misses the misanthrope.

Scrooge is a lucky man. He gets the chance to redeem himself. And we are reminded that we too have choices. No matter who we are or what we celebrate, we can always be thoughtful, generous, kind. These gifts are free – every day of the year.