It is the day after Christmas. There are some occasional snowflakes coming down outside - more fretful than anything serious. The house is warm. Warren was on the couch, tapping away on his laptop, but now he is down in the basement, sorting out music. Xylophone music - a recording of virtuoso George Hamilton Green - rattles its way back up the steps to the kitchen. I was folding laundry; now I am baking biscotti. There is a quiet to the house and a peacefulness.
My thoughts have been all over the board today. I had an email this morning in which a good friend wrote: Yesterday was a total bust! Spent most of the day on the couch. Wasn't sick, just couldn't make myself do anything! Mom & I wanted to go shopping but of course nothing was open! With our family doing Christmas on Christmas Eve, and no other family to go to any more, Christmas Day is nothing!
I laughingly replied that one major way in which she and I differ greatly is any day of the year, no matter what, I would NOT want to go shopping. I then tried to answer her in a more serious vein, giving up for fear of sounding preach or goofy or both.
But a thread of thought about Christmas has tugged at my fingers and at my conscience all morning, so much so that I am sitting down to write it.
It has been a different Christmas for us this year. Let me start out by noting that for the five Christmases Warren and I have celebrated together, the hallmark of them all has been low key celebration, not free-for-all shopping sprees and wild extravaganzas of consumerism. Neither our budgets nor our personal tastes lean in those directions. But even by our standards, this year was very quiet.
The blogger at I am the working poor honored me by linking to an earlier post of mine in her Christmas Day post. I commented back that economic conditions are still grim (and in my opinion grimmer) than when I wrote the post a month ago. Our biggest holiday outlays this year were for family members whose budgets are way past tight. Some are struggling to keep food on the table or a roof overhead. Some have lost that roof; some are getting their groceries from food pantries. In those situations, even a "small" gift - $25, say - is enormous.
When faced with that kind of need, Christmas is simple.
I guess the real question for all of us to answer is "why do we celebrate Christmas and what do we expect it to be or feel like?" Your answer will differ from mine, and that's fine. It is when your answer differs from your celebration that you run into difficulties (or at least I do).
My answers have changed several times in my lifetime. As I look back, I seem to be constantly removing layers of expectations from my thoughts about Christmas, not unlike peeling an onion.
Christmas 2010 was very low key in terms of commercial consumption, yet rich in all the ways that count, starting with family. We breakfasted on vegan cinnamon rolls that Warren and his children had baked the night before. We then opened presents together, laughing and teasing. Warren's children moved on to Christmas with their grandmother and a small wave of my family moved in for lunch. It was a simple meal, a good one, and the flavor of the food was matched and exceeded only by the talk and the laughter around the table. Our "daughter" Amy showed up in the evening with her fiancé; I talked by phone with both of my sons. After everyone was gone, Warren and I cuddled together on the couch and watched "A Christmas Carol" with George C. Scott, one of my favorite holiday films.
And that was Christmas 2010. Other than wishing that Ben, Alise, and Sam were also joining us at the table, it was one of the better Christmases I have spent when it came to how I felt about the day. I have often found Christmas hard to deal with both from an emotional standpoint and also in terms the rampant consumerism. By choice and design, our Christmas was quiet and personal and frugal. It fit.
I hope yours did too.