Have yourself an honest little Christmas…
You can look… but it’s not under the tree. That gift. The one you really do want. If you are an adult reading this you know this is true. Even if you unwrap the keys to the shiny luxury car (ala the over-produced commercials right now) or tickets to the vacation far away or the leather bag or the tech toy — it isn’t really what you want. I mean you think you do. You have been programmed to feel " less than" unless you have the magical moment that is both spectacular and cinematic, shiny and new.
Let’s be honest — this isn’t really the most wonderful time of the year for most folks.
Sure, there are glimpses. Especially in homes with young children — even young children visiting — because under a certain age, before the cynical and opportunist teenager shows up, there are moments of genuine wonder. Powdered sugar can be dusted around boots on the hearth and presto! You had irrefutable evidence that Santa wiggled down the chimney in the middle of the night. For some reason, I started putting carrots outside for the reindeer, and I gnawed them down and left them by the garage for years. This was dumb. Don’t do this. After a few stocking stuffing cocktails, nobody wants to be grabbing carrots out of a snowbank and chewing on them.
And there are dinners with longtime friends and relations that once a year can sometimes seem just right. The groaning tables of excessive entrees and sides amid ironed napkins and polished silver with candles flickering can look like a photograph — which is better than the actual video. In the replay form you hear the not covert complaints, maybe about the tree or the food or the timing of the meal, or maybe all that is perfect… and the (politically opposite) relation is both vocal and over-served. And those digs about your hair, beard, weight, job, mate, kids, car, boss, weight, feel very un-merry.
And you wonder… are other folks having the perfect holiday?
They might be. It might be their year. But every year isn’t everyone’s year. This might be one of those other/off years. Is this the year they are missing the family member who left this year? A reversal in fortune? Struggling with an illness of their own or that of a child? The loss of a job? Good fortune is fleeting. I have become convinced the universe gives us the full palette of experiences and emotions if we are alert and very, very lucky, to allow us to grow empathy muscles. So when we see someone in a place where we have been, we are the first to say, "let me help. I know how you are feeling."
You buy the groceries or the firewood or drop off the turkey. You find an extra coat and mittens or pair of skis. And you leave them where they are needed. And while that isn’t the stuff of commercials with folks with good hair and toned bodies, it is the stuff of a small town. And despite how it feels on a holiday weekend, we are still a small town. And many, many, many people here are having that holiday that isn’t movie quality. What they want is just to get through the day. And that can be celebration enough.
The joy always comes unbidden. A hug from a child not your own. A handwritten note. A bag of homemade peanut brittle tied on the doorknob. A laugh from someplace deep — so deep inside — you forgot you knew how laugh like that. A diagnosis that defied the prognosis.
What we want are those illusive moments/gifts. One more quiet, nondescript meal and conversation that we took for granted with a loved one who is now gone. One more year of young children thinking you are magic. One more holiday of carolers who stop by your door. One more moment where you realize this is a way better life than you ever imagined for yourself in those dark days.
I remember the year I had a teenager who was struggling and by no coincidence I was struggling, too. The man I thought was the love of my life turned out to have other loves. My teenager and I went to see a counselor down in Salt Lake City. We spent a few minutes together and the rest of the time, I was invited to spend outside the office. I wandered the nearly abandoned brick building and somewhere inside someone was playing a saxophone. The tune was "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and I was having anything but. It was haunting music and it made me sadder than I had ever been. We drove up the mountain, home in a blizzard, not speaking, and I couldn’t imagine ever having a merry little Christmas again.
Both my teenagers aged out of those phases and went on to marry and now have successful careers. They have produced in total, three grandchildren for me to spoil with abandon and to be thick as thieves with when we are parentless together. I discovered not everyone is meant is to go two by two — into the world and being happy on your own is its own gift.
The holidays can be both hopeful and painful and that’s all right. Pretending life is endless pleasure is silly. But rare moments of joy? Those are the gifts that come randomly, often when the long, dark days move to the light. Exactly where we are headed, this very Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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In the wake of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, PJ Falten has been thinking about the “fallen heroes who gave their lives so that something like last Wednesday could never happen on sacred ground. … What would they have thought?”