"I've never seen 'It's a Wonderful Life'!"
"Nah! What for?! Why I should wanna watch Jimmy Stewart shakin' his wife cuz he stressed out, bemoaning his life, being all suicidal, and yellin' at the top of his lungs to everybody?"
"Dude. It's about more than that."
"Yeah. I know. But dude. What kind of dad is this guy who's willing to leave his family because, 'ooh. He got scared of being poor.' Eff that puto. DADS SUCK!"
"Your life is false! If you haven't seen this movie, your life is FALSE!"
This was an excerpt of a conversation with a friend upon his learning that I had not only missed out on the holy grail of the holiday season, but that I didn't care that I had not seen this film.
I am not a Christmas person. To wit, I watched (and hated) The Sound of Music, have never seen any of the following: White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, nor, the quintessential It's a Wonderful Life.
In actuality, Christmas has always been the source of heightened anxiety and dread. Case in point, last night I had a nightmare featuring my deceased grandmother. We were not on good terms when she passed, and in my dream, she was dressed in red with white trim whilst enacting freaky contortionist tableaus from The Exorcist in the living room of my fictional, dreamland bungalow. All this because I knew there was an impending family gathering the next day.
There are only two Christmases on record, during which I experienced the love of humanity, the "peace on earth" and "goodwill towards men" that has been propagandized to me since birth.
The first was the year my dad passed away. Simple, sentimental logic would assume that I might want to be closer to my family during a time of need like that. But sentimental logic eschews the possibility that one might be related to vultures battling over the rights to threadbare t-shirts and holey socks. Fortunately for me, my dad's side of the family had decided to shun me that year. My mom, The Nurse, had yet to retire, and was scheduled to work that Christmas of 2001. And what did I do? I spent that Christmas alone. Gloriously alone. For the first time in my life, Christmas didn't involve being in the car, scheduling between multiple family invitations. It didn't reference the youthful anxiety of my parents trying to figure out how I was going to get from "here" to "there" and who's job it was to take me and "aren't you going to see your daughter on Christmas?" and watching my younger cousin open up a bacchanalian horde of gifts while I slowly disrobed the one gift I had while waiting for my dad to show up. Sometimes he did. Sometimes I drove to him, once I could. Always, Christmas was me in the car, traversing the maze of highways.
So the year my dad died, I had nowhere I needed to be. There was no pressure. No anxiety. No guilt over not being in the frame of mind to buy presents. Just me. It was perfect.
I had a slow, long lingering morning with tamales and some TV, then decided to walk to the movies. The weather was crisp for an LA winter. I walked in silence, watching people rushing about to here or there. The ambient noise was regular outside noise, cars passing, occasional bird caws, distant sounds of life happening around me. As I walked I realized I was breathing deep, whole breaths. Clear, calm breaths. I wasn't tense or on the verge of tears for the first time in months. My hands were free floating rather than the clenched fists they'd turn into at the thought of having to sit through another family function fighting against the ghosts of ancient pain and wrongdoings that my family found it necessary to conjure every year.
The rest of that day, one thought kept popping up in my mind: "I'm free." Being alone that Christmas was the best gift I could have given myself. I didn't have to talk to anyone. I didn't have to re-enact some pre-packaged tableau in order to make someone else happy. That day was absolutely mine to do and feel whatever I needed.
My relationship to Christmas has changed from being a source of unrealized familial bliss and disappointment (I don't remember celebrating Christmas with both of my parents at the same time). I have gone from hating Christmas to hovering above it, outside it, and letting it do its thing and pass by me. I don't love Christmas, but I don't hate it. In fact, I don't really feel anything at all about it, but I can see that it makes people happy. What makes me happy is that I no longer feel pressure to pretend that it means anything to me.
In realizing that it's okay for me not to love Christmas, I've found things about the season that I do like. I love the sensory elements of Christmas – the cinnamon and apple "holiday" scents and flavors, See's Candy Nuts & Chews for dessert after each tamale session.
And now it's over for another. And in a week, we lay this year to sleep and celebrate the dawn of a new era of possibilities.
Nos vemos en 2012!