Sunday, December 24, 2017

There's a Kind of Hush

This year my annual holiday-themed post is reaching you right on Christmas Eve.  And, when I say “holiday-themed,” I do actually mean that.  I’ve ranged the gamut from extensively quoting Jesus to exploring pagan Yule traditions, and I’ve at least touched on Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Pancha Ganapati, among others.  Plus I’ve given you not just one, but two mixes of alternative Christmas music.  (If you want to read all my past holiday posts, you can get the list in my series listing post on the informals.)

Typically I use this post to talk about why you should value your family, or feel goodwill towards the general populace, or that sort of thing.  And that’s an excellent message for Christmas Day, and also for Kwanzaa, and even Yule.  But Christmas Eve is, to me, more about anticipation.  It’s the sense of waiting, the calm before the storm of wrapping paper and videogames and Christmas cookies and telephone calls to absent family members.  This is mostly a good waiting, even though the kids can get frustrated sometimes that Christmas isn’t coming along fast enough for their tastes.  But that’s why we have separate traditions for Christmas Eve than for Christmas: it’s lots of stuff to get the little ones’ minds off the fact that they can’t bear to wait one more night.  Many people do their big Christmas meal on Christmas Eve, and some folks also open a single gift the night before, to help ease that crushing anticipation.  There are other traditions too, like the putting out of the Christmas cookies and milk (or eggnog, or beer, or whatever you think Santa will like best).  Or the hanging of the stockings, or the addition of one final Christmas ornament—in my parents’ house, for many years that was the placement of a holiday verison of the starship Enterprise on the mantel; when you pushed the button underneath, Spock flipped open his communicator and wished all of Starfleet a very merry Christmas.  These are all just distractions for the younger family members of course—with maybe just a touch of hopefully wearing them out so they’ll fall asleep quickly and Santa can come at last.

When I was a kid, Christmas Eve was for going over to my grandmother’s house, where we had the standard holiday mega-feast,1 followed by exchanging gifts with my grandparents, aunt and uncle, and my two cousins.  These gifts were often less serious, since the extended family were the people you had the least idea about what to buy.  So often you’d just give up trying to find something they actually wanted and just go straight for something that would make them laugh.  There was a long period of time when either me or my brother just counted down the moments till we could open our cheap cologne and proudly proclaim (in unison) in our best Eddie Murphy: “Brut! by Faberge.”  And everyone would giggle, though undoubtedly at least some of them had no clue what we were talking about.

So that’s what Christmas Eve means to me.  It’s a little bit of delicious anticipation, and a small measure of practice run for the serious gift unwrapping and eating to come, and a time to just take a breath ... sometimes, the last truly relaxing time of the year.  Tomorrow there will be schedules to keep and visits to make and instructions to read and phone calls to field.  But today ... today is just chill, and bask in the glory of family.

We have a lot to be thankful for this year, of course.  Our middle human child survived a fairly scary heart surgery with surprisingly little fallout, and I continue to have a great job where they put up with my eccentricities and pay me a comfortable wage to do so.  And we continue to live in a beautiful house, in beautiful sunny southern California, with lots of room for us to avoid each other when that’s necessary and to come together again when we need to, and a pool with a spa out back where the humans will spend nearly every afternoon in the summertime.  We’ve suffered losses, true: for several years now I’ve told you that our family consisted of 5 humans, 2 dogs, 3 cats, 1 guinea pig, and assorted fish and shrimp and snails, and last year we even added a bearded dragon.  This year we are but 5 humans, 2 dogs, 2 cats, and a fishtank ... a runaway and two funerals2 have shrunk the family size this year.3  But we all still feel very privileged to have each other, and to be lucky enough to expect a decent-sized bounty from the Big Man tomorrow.  So, today, we wait ...

Anticipation is a funny thing, if you think about it.  It’s torturous, especially when you’re smaller.  But it’s also exquisite—it’s a sensation to be savored, building to an inevitable climax of some almost unilaterally positive emotion: joy, or pleasure, or relief, or (in the case of Christmas) satisfaction, with a touch of decadence.  And, in just one more week, we’ll have New Year’s Eve, with even more anticipation, culminating in the release of a new year, a fresh start, the chance to put all the bad parts of the old year behind us,4 and embrace a new, as-yet-unsullied future.  Anticipation is nice, is what I’m saying; no matter how much you want it to be over, you can’t help reveling in it just a little.  Because it’s a sign that good things can still happen, are still happening.  It’s a sign of hope, and a sign of life.  And life goes on.

So that’s what Christmas Eve means to me.  From all of us here, to all of you out there, we hope your anticipation is just as savory as is ours.  And we hope that your Christmas (if you celebrate it) and your New Year’s (if you celebrate it) is glorious and wonderful and all that you hoped it would be.  And, even if you celebrate something else entirely, or perhaps your particular celebration has already been put to bed, we still wish you hope, and peace, and happiness.  Because you deserve it.

We all do.


1 “Holiday feast” in this case means it was basically the same meal for Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving, and Easter.

2 Honestly, one loss is so recent that there is one funeral yet to be conducted.

3 And, if you’re one of those people who think the animals don’t “count,” I’ll refer you to one of my earliest blogs to educate you that “pets” are people too, for the long version.  For the short version: I don’t judge your family; don’t judge mine.

4 And, let’s face it: if you happen to live in the United States, the old year has been overflowing with bad parts.

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