I am basically a happy person. I don't go *looking* for things to be unhappy about. I partake in the news as sparingly as I can while still staying informed. My natural inclination is to look for "bright sides" and "silver linings". But there is something about all of the sort of compulsory good cheer around the holidays that sets my teeth on edge, like too sweet frosting. It ignores a lot of the very real aspects of the nativity story for one thing, a pregnant woman traveling over rough terrain, seeking only shelter to have her baby in peace. I think about Mary being far away from her mother and her cousin at a time when women were routinely attended to by family in their time of childbirth. I think about her flight to Egypt shortly after giving birth, running away from a genocidal king who is randomly killing newborns.
I also think about more modern concerns. People who are lonely, and depressed, away from their families or friends, separated by death or distance or disease. I worry about colder weather being brutal for the homeless and the poor. And then of course there is the existential dread that seems to come in December as well. Is it something atavistic in us that fears the longer nights and dead and dying plants? Is it the ending of the year but before the fresh and shiny and fleeting hopefulness of New Year's? I'm not sure.
I just know that even as a child I felt like I could feel my life slipping away at Christmas. At age six, surrounded by toys and grandparents and aunts and uncles, I turned to my five year old sister and solemnly told her, "Christmas will never be this good again."
So while most of the time I am baking cookies and visiting friends and even throwing god-damn compulsory caroling parties and trimming the tree, in the quiet times of the night, the long hours between midnight and morn, I think of T.S. Eliot's poem about a similar feeling of both joy and dread.
The Journey Of The Magi
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kiking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
All this to say... a blue Christmas, a sad Christmas is Christmas still.
And now a weepy, blue, tear-stained playlist to get you through the worst of it.
Hard Candy Christmas
If We Make it Through December
Please Come Home for Christmas
What Are You Doing New Year's Eve
Someday at Christmas
I'll Be Home for Christmas
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Merry Christmas Darling
That Was the Worst Christmas Ever
Christmas Time is Here
In the Bleak Midwinter
Walking in the Air
PS Why this stopped letting me embed links I do not know. Merry Christmas.
PS UPDATE: I think they are all embedded now. It's a Christmas miracle.