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Sunday, November 24, 2013

CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS






I’m not a “Christmas person,” although I used to be.  Somewhere back there in the dim past, I remember when the anticipation of Christmas filled me with a mysterious joy, even during the bleakest days of WWII when rationing reduced Christmas toys to homemade wooden trucks and wagons that were whittled by talented uncles, and my woolen sock (tacked to the mantle with a nail) was packed with oranges, plaid socks and nuts and the house was filled with the smell of stack cakes. Like most of my peers, I was pleased by candy corn, pecans and tangerines (all of that was pretty exotic in Rhodes Cove in the 40’s), but the real pleasure had very little to do with food and presents.  Rather, it was the anticipation of some kind of family gathering .... a time when all of the uncles and aunts came home, packing  my grandparent’s old farm house with good will.

   There was a lot of uniforms, I remember.  I had two uncles in the Navy and my mother’s brothers were in the Army and the Air Force. I remember riding with all of them when they visited Velt’s Cafe or the Coffee Shop,where their old friends treated them like royalty and I got to live in a kind of reflected glory.  My family contained an awesome number of people; aunts with babies that slept in my grandparents’ bed while the family ate in shifts. The kitchen stove (a Home Comfort) was loaded with chugging coffee pots and a “warming closet” filled with biscuits and sausage.  From the living room, Bing Crosby crooned “White Christmas” and all was right with the world.

   What happened?  When did all of that comfort and security vanish?  As I remember it now, it began with college.  My cousins and nephews became teachers and business people who gradually vanished into vocations and families in other towns.  People gradually stopped returning “for the holidays” because they had families of their own. Perhaps the distance was too great and they lacked the time or the inclination to maintain the old ties. Regardless, something that had once been tightly woven began to come apart.  Within a few years, whatever bound my “family” together suffered some significant changes.  Death took its toll, and with the passing of my grandparents and a large number of aunts and uncles, I suddenly found an empty farmhouse on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Also, a few of the family members  announced that they were divorcing, and in a very short time, the breakup of marriage (including my own) became a common occurence.

   However, the majority of my cousins, nephews, uncles and aunts were more fortunate than I. They still retained families.  I had lost both of my parents at an early age and never became a parent myself. In recent years,I have become increasingly aware of people like me.  We share some specific characteristics:  we are elderly, dependent on social security and many of us live alone. Due to economic disadvantages, we view holidays with anxiety.  In a sense, we cannot participate in “the joyful season” because the major purpose of the celebration has become the spending
of money.  We are urged to demonstrate our devotion to our families and friends by buying them lavish presents.  Our failure to do so, leaves us with a sense of inadequacy.  Over the years, I have come to dread the approach of Christmas and the sound of “The Little Drummer Boy.”  I can no longer afford a Christmas tree, the requisite lights and/or the Christmas cards.  Like a growing number of my peers, I choose not to participate in a ritual that fills me with a sense of isolation and loneliness.

   Several years ago, I recommended the establishment of a Grinch Club. In essence, I thought that all of us who felt “on the outside looking in” should drive our cars to a mutually agreeable site, perhaps an empty parking lot at Walmart or Lowes, and there we should park in a great circle like a wagon train and proceed to hold our own celebration.  Maybe we could all tune our radios to the same station, find some acceptable music and then socialize.  The plan has flaws, of course.  Most people had rather be inside where it is warm.  Most people would like something to eat.

   So, with the coming of the holidays, I would like to invite all of those who share my plight to gather at your local McDonalds, Waffle House or Huddle House. Join me as we lift our coffee cups in song.  Let us feast on the “All Day Breakfast” menu as we greet our brothers and sisters.  You know as well as I do that most of that orgy of spending that surrounds us has little or nothing to do with “the Christmas spirit.”  Sing loudly, my friends.  I am confident that the Stars of the Nativity will shine as brightly on us as on the banquet halls elsewhere.  Let’s see if we can restore a bit of that sense of family and belonging that we once had.

11 comments:

  1. Gary,, I remember those wonderful family times as well, but life changes and death takes our loved ones eventually. Like you, I no longer have a Christmas tree and do very little decorating, but I will not let time take my Christmas spirit. I don't participate in Black Friday shopping and can't afford to give many or lavish gifts. I have no children, have lost almost all of my brothers and sisters, but I still have friends who have been in my life for decades. We will celebrate Thanksgiving at a restaurant, then gather at my house to talk and enjoy being together. My sister is coming to be with us. At Christmas we gather at her house and share inexpensive gifts we order from catalogs. The fun is opening the gifts, not how much money they cost. This year I will travel further than usual to share Christmas dinner with nieces who live south of Atlanta. I am determined that I will not give up celebrating Christmas even though it will never be like it was when we were young. Your writing is lovely, as usual. Thanks for commenting on Writers Circle Facebook page.

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  2. Thank you, Glenda. Fortunately, I have a few friends and somehow, we always manage to find each other at this time of year. Some are former students and some are old friends. None are family. We can still talk a good game and can spend time comparing notes on books and movies.
    It is always a great experience and makes me wonder why we don't do it more often, regardless of holidays.

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  3. Your Grinch Club outing sounds intriguing. Maybe you could gather at a community room or church hall -- somewhere you could all be inside and it would feel more like a "get together." I'm all for restoring a sense of family and belonging as in the yesteryears.

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  4. It would probably work. I remember the response to a "Grinch Club" last year took me by surprise and lots of people came up with ideas. Should it be for Thanksgiving and Christmas......or both........or is it a New Year party? I just saw Reverend Billy again and he is still refreshing with his exorcism of credit cards and chanting "Stop Shopping." More power to him.

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  5. Gary, you do say what you mean to say very well! And actually, although I have no sibs, aunts, uncles, or cousins by the dozen anywhere, and it's just me and my still-single son for holidays, I don't feel nearly as defeated by it as I thought I would when I first tread this path. Fond memories of my grands putting my Santy Claus gifts under a cedar we cut on the farm, and the open fireplace burning brightly in the room are still with me, but I've pared down my expectations of Christmases of today. Lavish gifts are not even an issue, we have a nice meal, do decorate the house, and it's a peaceful day. Seems someone's always telling me how they dread to see certain of their relatives they can't stand, which dampens my ardor to have a big group around shouting at football games and cheers me is some twisted way! I hope you gather a group, lift glasses bigtime, and remember it's only one day long anyway.

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  6. Happy Christmas, Gary, and a healthy and powerful coming year.

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