I hate how the retail industry tries to boss the public into celebrating holidays for a solid month or more. One time my city put up those downtown lamp-post Christmas wreaths before Halloween, leading to dreadful feelings of holiday dissonance and strange desires to carve a crucifix into my pumpkin and make a manger scene with little skeletons.
I love the seasons and the cycles of time and of the year. How I love them! I will not sacrifice the proper order of things to the sick desires of Moloch and Mammon.
That said, Thanksgiving is over and now I can turn my mind without guilt to the holiday season. No, it’s not Christmas yet, but it is time to start thinking about Christmas, if only to have time to do things right.
I share with you now my Christmas Sanity Plan. With minor modifications, this would also work for any December holiday you celebrate.
Inspired by a 2005 editorial in the local paper, my family (me, my mom, and my sister) now tries to exchange gifts that are handmade, perishable (food, plants, soap, etc.), or secondhand. For example, I think I am going to try to get my mom a relatively cheap secondhand stereo this Christmas. Last Christmas I knitted her a lush, warm lap robe to cover her knees, which are bothered by drafts. Handmade gifts have more heart. Perishable gifts don’t fill your life with clutter. Secondhand gifts are cheaper and don’t fill your world with clutter. Gifts like this help keep you from emptying your wallet onto people who already have nearly everything they need.
The first weekend I have free in December, I haul out the old Rubbermaid box full of Saylor family Christmas deocrations. I don’t do a tree (my household is currently just me), but I do have a vase of curly willow that I put gold ornaments on. I put it in the window. Festive; simple; inexpensive. (At this point you may have made the observation that I have a Martha Stewart streak a mile wide. Correct.)
On one weekend close to Christmas, I make rum balls, cookies, or some kind of holiday candy. Then I bag them up and hop in my car to bring fresh treats to people I love. The point here is to make a short visit bringing good things to good people, to make sure they know that they are cared about. It’s fun to come bringing gifts!
I love music. So every year I try to make a seasonal mix tape. (Can anybody steer me to the Shane MacGowan cover of I Saw Three Ships?) Homebrew mixes are always the best. They make good gifts, too. I still listen to one that my friend Gerard made me before he went off the deep end and started selling Shaklee.
I decorate in a small way, with my curly willow and maybe stockings on the mantel and a few knickknacks. I don’t go all out (I save that for Halloween). I’m not a Christian, so to me Christmas is not a religious holiday, but a time to show love to my people, to eat good food, to try to offer real help some person or animal who needs it, to try to relax, and to think about what goes on in the natural world at this time of the year.
The worst cold is yet to come, but by late December the days at last begin to get longer. These strange and beautiful ever-repeating, ever-different cycles of daylight and season always make me think of the cycles of my own life and of life in general. Ever-repeating, at least in a human lifetime. Ever-different, as time is always shaping the present moment into a different world. To me, winter is a time of introspection, of cooking and resting and of seeding my mind with thoughts that can later bloom into acts of creation. It’s a time of rest and reflection, of reading and watching good movies, of feeling the warmth of home.
I try to have my bedtime reading be my favorite children’s book, Children of Green Knowe, an utterly magical work set at Christmastime.
I try to give something to charity. This year I think I am considering making a gift in my sister’s name to a PETA charity that provides warm doghouses to chained dogs with no shelter who must endure winter in the colder parts of the U.S.
Come Christmas Eve, if I am in town, I go to the holiday service at my church. (Yes, I am a churchgoing woman. And if you had a crazy hippie church like mine in your town, run by a nearly-defrocked formerly-Methodist feminist gay-friendly jazz-musician Tom-Robbins-fan minister, your ass might be in church, too.)
On Christmas Day, if I’m in town and not visiting my mom and sister, I usually just chill out at home. Single people frequently have lots of invitations in the days leading up to Christmas but nothing to do on the big day itself, which is, of course, the time that can be the loneliest. As a younger person I spent many a blue Christmas night home alone watching the Walton Family Christmas Special on a cheap black-and-white TV, hip-deep in misery. I don’t know what happened, but somewhere in my twenties I figured out that a single person makes her own holidays, and can make them happy or sad as she is able. So I plan my day, even if there’s no one to plan for but me. If I end up home on Christmas Day, I’ll probably just rent a video, watch my favorite Christmas movie, and immerse myself in stillness and soft blankets. Now that I’m a working college student, downtime really means downtime. It means an attempt to really relax.
There is an art to living partnerless for years on end. It can be done well or poorly. As Henry Rollins says, solitude is a hard-won ally, faithful and patient. But once won, this powerful and important ally is yours for life. And it’s a fine and strong ally to have, especially during the holiday season.
And that’s my plan. No, I won’t be able to do all of it. But if I can do some of it, that’s enough. Please feel free to implement my ideas into your own holiday season if you wish! And may we all be sane and feel loved this holiday season, and every day of the year.