Sunday, December 10, 2006
it's coming on christmas
…they’re cuttin’ down trees.
In creating traditions which might, at some point, become my children’s oral history, I’m feeling my way, Braille-like, around the edges of common culture. Being agnostic, I have the pleasure of embracing it all, or none of it. Different years I’ve dipped into our Catholic heritage for music, incense and nativity. Sometimes the holiday finds us at the local progressive and predominantly gay Metropolitan Community Church (one year one of my kids had a role in a Christmas play there). We go to Chanukah parties. We attend holiday theatre. Occasionally we careen around all of it and opt for Christmas Day blockbusters, like Titanic.
This year, I’m all for minimalism. The excesses of the season just feel plain wrong to me. The other day my friend David invited me to a preview of a local Christmas production, Mars on Life: Susannah Mars. At intermission we sort of shrugged our collective shoulders eyeing each other for context. The show was okay, but somehow fell flat at inspiring any sort of emotion or resonance for either of us. David asked if I’d noticed a dearth of Christmas spirit about. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of it that way. The usual lights were lit along the West Hills. The infamous martini glass, strands of colored baubles, lots of bare branches festooned in white twinkle.
But it was David’s feeling that there might be ennui, a down-spirit this year, and that this feeling might be tied to the protracted war and the global mess we can no longer be blind to.
I have to admit to a sense of things coming unraveled. Not just for me personally (though, that’s certainly been true of this past year), but for humanity, generally. Greed, fear, hate. It all abounds. Like three-year-old children, many of us begin to cling to the familiar, and embrace destructive patterns that keep the raw chaos of it all at bay. Perhaps we go on buying sprees, taking pleasure in holding a new jewel or piece of cashmere for just that period of time before new fades into repertoire.
But others search for meaning within their passions. This is potentially a great time for art. Art that is difficult to embrace, in particular, because it drives us to look at what we should be looking at, with a part of our humanity that feels somewhat dangerous. Now is the time, more than ever, to open our eyes, our hearts, our spirits. Eschew the predictable and well-trod for the unblazed.
My friend Rachel and I took our two little boys into the woods Friday, in search of Christmas trees. We trekked about the forest, climbed some hills, found a bit of snow to sled down and eventually sawed through a couple of spindly trunks. Mine, fittingly a hemlock, is now supported with chopsticks so it stands straight in its Rubbermaid bin in a corner of my living room. Two strands of light, a clip-on bird and a few glass balls is all the decorating I’m doing this year. My kids are appalled, even the one who helped fell the tree. But they’ve chalked it up to an acceptable eccentricity, and are willing to embrace my need to follow spirit instead of conjure it. We’ll see how they feel about a Christmas Eve dinner of sushi and miso soup.