Maybe the first and most important cure has to do with Christmas itself, or in this case, the un-Christmas. This year, being in Tucson helped provide me a good excuse for acceding to a totally low-key holiday. I did buy a swag, put a red ribbon on it, and hung it on the door where I’m staying. I did string up a few white sparkle lights and some prayer flags; but there was no tree on the premises. Instead I have a bunch of red peppers hanging in the kitchen.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not opposed to Christmas as a family celebration: a time for friends and relatives to sit around the table laughing, overeating, and comparing notes on life. I’m just backing away from the commercialization of the holiday, which, this year, started even before Thanksgiving.
In my Apple newsfeed every day from the middle of November onward, I had “news stories” about the “35 items under $20 dollars that every cook needs,” or the “15 things your pet can’t do without,” or “make-up necessities Kylie Jenner swears by.” I have to admit, I did click on some of these links — because, curious! (Which, I know, is why “they” kept sending them to me.) What do marketers think I need? Or think others need? What’s buzzing in our culture these days? I have to say IMHO 90 percent of these items looked relatively superfluous verging on ridiculous.
My guiding principle for the holidays is… consumables! Including but not limited to things that actually wear out. Thus, the three pair of Bombas socks and the soy candle I got from my wonderful sis were perfect. And I sent her Mexican vanilla and a rock (note: not a lump of coal). The other lovely things that arrived — cheery cards — are propped up on a bookshelf.
So, I think because I did not have a tree with piles of packages wrapped and ribboned under it, I did not have the let-down feeling I sometimes experience the day after Christmas. Also, it’s fair to say, because I was not on my home turf but staying in the middle of the desert, the cactus, the road runners, and assorted crawly things did not spark in me the usual images I associate with the holidays.
Unexpected moments of sweetness
Then, along with the advantage of making Christmas just another time for modest celebration, I had a couple wonderful after-Christmas gifts that arrived simply by my being out in the world and paying attention.
For instance, the morning after Christmas I was the second one in the door at the local post office and witnessed this heart-warming exchange.
The woman ahead of me in line was the first to the counter with a slip about a package to pick up — something she had only now, after the holiday flurries, had time to attend to. As the guy at the counter disappeared behind the scenes with her slip, he called back out to us (by now there was another person in line behind me), “What is the name again?” The woman at the counter shouted back to him [I changed her name], “Maynor. M-A-Y-N-O-R.”
There was a pause, then the post guy shouted back “Maynor? Do I know you?” Then, “Did we go to high school together?” Longer pause. Then, “I was your prom date!” And the woman at the counter sort of half-squealed, “What?!” “Yes, we went to senior prom together,” the postal clerk said as he emerged from back stage with her package. (I looked at the other woman now behind me in line and we laughed out loud as we watched this little scene unfolding.)
“OMG,” she said. “We’re still alive!”
And then a quick three act play at the counter: “What have you been doing all these years after high school?” “I went into the Navy for six years and then ended up in Basingstoke, England.” “You cleaned up pretty well.” “I have a cat.” “I went gray immediately.” “I have four cats.” “I’m getting ready for the apocalypse.” “That’s weird because I just went through a lot of stuff stored at my sister’s place and I found a photo of us.” “Really?” “So you go by Tish now?” “Do you want to see the photo?” “I’m on Facebook.” Then they were so flummoxed that when she left she nearly walked off without her package.
Meanwhile the line behind me had grown and we all said, “We should have caught that on video!” It was just one of life’s supra-unexpectedly sweet moments.
Couples in love
But then that evening, another one arrived. I was asked to go to a “Senior Showcase of Dance” and in a weak moment said OK. I dressed reluctantly — some events require a little extra sparkle, not my thing — and decided to drive my own car so I could slip out quietly if needed. As I walked into the open ballroom — mirrors all around the walls — I quickly noticed that the average age was, well, mine. Dancers were mostly paired up such that the dancing novice had a professional partner (but even they were of a certain age, or beyond).
The festivities began and immediately an older fellow who had never danced before (so the announcer said) took center stage and did admirably. Much applause. Then another guy stepped up; he must have been in his eighth decade dressed as if for a sock hop with a muscle shirt, a snappy casquette, and (I noticed) one leg shorter than the other. He and his partner did a Rockabilly vamp. More applause. Then a younger couple who’d never performed before — Nick in a soldier outfit, Sarah dressed in a flowing scarf and skirt — added a little flair of drama to their dance. They were so darn in love that in the amidst their set of self-conscious dance moves, their smiles and the way they looked at each other filled the room, leaving us all basking in goodwill and good feeling.
Well, in short, I was reminded how charming and tender humans can be. And, I’m hoping, not just at the holidays. I was turned from a post-holiday grump into a believer and realized that the trick about Christmas/Kwanza/Hanukkah is to keep this spirit of loving kindness all year ‘round. You’ll be surprised at what beauty you’ll discover — I was. Let’s have plenty in 2020.