Our tree 2002
It's August and the Christmas catalogs are starting to pour in. Most years, they irritate the bejesus outta me. Tacky, ridiculous stuff and besides, it's still summer, etc. etc.
This year, for the first time probably ever, I keep feasting my eyes on them, not so much on the giftable goods as the Christmas cards, with their images and their messages.
This craving has a bunch of reasons, one being the relentless heat and mosquitoes. I crave fall and winter. I'm even sick of thunderstorms, which I usually love. Our recent lightning strike shook my storm enjoyment. By the way, it fried every smoke detector in the house, necessitating a full set of replacements.
My grandmother's childhood ornament string, circa 1910
Another is that it's been so long since I really experienced Christmas that I miss it. Last year was something to get through, and actually, the year before wasn't much better. Dad's only brother died and we took a difficult trip in an ice storm to the funeral on December 17th 2009, with my very frail mom, so the next week was recovery and grieving. Christmas 2010 happened and happened well but it didn't happen in my heart, just in cars, shops and rooms. I'm feeling more ready to love Christmas as a way of sharing something with people in my past as well as my present. I need renewal. I feel like I'm running on empty, just over halfway through the year.
The cards in the National Wildlife catalog are a mental vacation. Quiet idealized woods and cottages in snow, little birds puffed against the cold, sparkling lights spattering out of windows at dusk, peace on earth, wishing you peace, let there be peace....
The pre-written lines on the cards ... Well, let's just say that they're exercising my brain. I have the leisure at this time of year to think about what they say and how I feel about it.
"Season's Greetings" is the one I hate. The only one. It's a venerable meaningless sentiment, having been around for business-networking-decades before the culture wars bled over into Christmas.
I'm OK with "Happy Holidays." To deny that there are other holidays is silly. The statistics as to how many more people celebrate "this" one over "that" one mean zilch. It's not a majority-win-all issue, and I fail to see how anyone could embrace the loving spirit of Christmas without liking the idea of wishing happiness for others who aren't interested in Christmas happiness.
"Happy Holidays" is a good thing to offer. "Season's Greetings" is emotionless, soulless, so robotic you can smell the machine oil of the "Don't really care if you're happy" thought that lubricates its dead gears.
But I do Christmas because I believe in it, and that means that the reason I send cards is Christmas. And the reason I'm glad others find something joyful in the turn of the year is that it, I certainly hope, gives them not just happy holidays, but renewal for the year. Strength for a full-year's journey.
So, I guess the next category of card-sentiments that I don't like are the ones that say only "I wish you a wonderful season." Just the season?
Honestly, just me, but I'd get a better holiday that provides a little soul-sustenance year-round.
I need to like both the art and the message. This one (below) has a good sentiment (which you need to click it, to read).
If only the art didn't look like somebody found a distant planet on which all life had been scorched off by a gamma-ray burst, and inexplicably planted a church there.
Last but maybe best is rediscovering a gift I got long ago.
Beyond Sing the Woods was given to me by my writer-grandmother, when I was about 16. I couldn't get into it then. I picked it up again a couple weeks ago and have been Wowed. Some gifts wait till the right time and this was the right time, most certainly.
Beyond Sing the Woods has rich, glorious Christmas scenes. The novel takes place in a vague era that's probably the late 1700's or early 1800's, and the goods and food are varied and opulent, but the power in the festival comes from something more nebulous than that opulence, and gift-giving is practically an afterthought. The feast renews an awareness of something higher, especially in the poorer residents too careworn most of the year to think long about the beliefs that they do hold.
The book is filled with visions of the new added to, or built onto, the old; the new 18th century house, attached to the older hall with its heavy leaded glass windows and its multiple generations of weapons and ironware piled back in the shadows, and, opening off of another room and still older, the house from antiquity with its hearth in the middle of the floor and smokehole in the roof. The past isn't gone, it's encompassed in the new. The rituals have tied past to present since memory began.
I'm craving cool weather and time outside, and the short days that ease into night. And gifts are good, I like gifts when they're in proportion to the purpose of the festival. There has to be a way to give, without gift-giving becoming the disproportionate thing it can become, like a bowling ball balancing on a straight pin. I want Christmas for the connection with people in my past, and connection with people who will remember our Christmases when we're gone.