What Christmas means to me:
1.) Very tight shoulders: shopping, wrapping, writing Christmas cards 'til my hand cramps. Fretting over who to buy stuff for--what stuff to buy them. Paying for the stuff.
2.) Health concerns: one of us is always very ill during the week leading up to Christmas. This would be OK if we could shift Christmas day around. Like celebrate it a day later or so, until the sick person feels up to it. But my mom won't do that. Somehow the day must always be the 25th, even if you have the next day off from work. I don't understand this mentality. It's not even Baby Jesus' real birthday, and Christmas historically, was actually a mostly-Northern European invention to celebrate winter solstice and get through the darkest days of the season with sanity intact (i.e., slaughter all the cattle you couldn't feed throughout the winter, eat the meat and drink all the fermented beverages that were ready for consumption). It's a swell pagan holiday that the Christians co-opted, like so many other celebrations, and now it's just a big muddle of iconic images plastered across the landscape amid endless carols that are piped in any available public place you happen to exist in (gas-station bathrooms: do I hear "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" overhead? Yes.).
3.) Iconic images: Last week I was in big Longs Drugstore. Everyone in Oakland calls it Big Longs because it's just gigantic. It's like a funky Wal-Mart but no one protests its existance--it's an accepted part of the urban landscape. There's five or six Christmas aisles at Big Longs. And I noticed that one of the boxed ornament gift sets there consisted entirely of gambling devices: dice, slot machine, poker chips; all done in shiny, colorful glass in multiple colors. "When I think of Christmas, I think of gambling," I said out loud to no one (I'm getting crotchety, obviously). Several people tittered. The following week, I was hanging out in Reno, for fun, and I saw no images of gambling and Christmas, other than the festive decorations in the hotel lobbies and casinos. I don't know what this means, except that Oakland has its priorities screwed up and Reno is really downplaying the gambling of late.
4.) Family: My immediate family is really a great one. I lucked out in that department. I enjoy seeing them, talking to them and just thinking about them. My extended family has become another matter over the years. We all grew up together, aunts, uncles, cousins and even cousins' friends and other cousins. We were about as close as an extended family could be, but I guess there's a bit of a sociopathic gene running through this particular extended family. Therefore, as everyone grew, their temperments came to the forefront and slowly, the family "unit" began to decay. All it takes is a few people waving some guns around, threatening their spouses and children to put a damper on family celebrations. Then there's back-biting, stealing, paranoia, lying and passive-agressive manipulation to contend with. To a lesser degree, hoarding and overall anxiety. What a psychic stew! It really makes holidays a drag, to say the least. One by one, I've dropped my extended family connections. There's still a few good ones out there, but they live far away and I only get to see them once a year if I'm lucky. So Christmas is a real mixed bag for me, like for most people. It enforces this ideal of "family" and "friends" which may not be much of an ideal from year to year. It's propaganda of the cheery sort.
Sometimes Christmas reminds me of these two roommates I had. One became increasingly agoraphobic and wouldn't leave her pig-sty of a room for days. The other was really happy all the time and didn't see any problems about anything at all. Once, when I was feeling down about something, she told me that if I just smiled more, I would feel better because studies have shown that it takes less muscles to smile than frown. Every time I smile I think of these studies. Trouble is, I was born with a birth defect that actually makes it really hard for me to smile. It probably takes more muscles for me to smile than frown, and if that makes me kind of grumpy about life, too bad! I was born that way! Merry Christmas.