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The Bliss in Another | 2010 | The Microcosm of One Night

12.25.10 11:16 p.m.

I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.  

-Taylor Caldwell


Seeing Red and Jade

She was convinced Santa needed her to jump and scream his name.

We live in a culture that encourages us to be jaded, starting with an honest appreciation for things like Christmas. Having in our childhood felt primal awe for the spectacle of the holiday, we are supposed to age into feeling sullen and resentful. That, after all, is what is cool. You are supposed to proclaim Santa dead like preadolescent Nietzsches and decry the whole month as an orgy of crass commercialism.

This isn't to say he isn't (rest Nicholas of Myra's saintly soul) and it isn't, but that doesn't mean that there isn't someone worth admiring beneath it. Like Christianity itself, the seed idea is a lovely one, even if most people do it a critical disservice. In the right situation, surrounded by family and just full enough with cookies that one does not yet feel like a glutton, one has the sensation that one is in exactly the place one should be. Even if one is doing nothing more than eating Chinese food with one's Muslim and Jewish friends (don't order the pork lo mein), being together on the longest nights of the year, as the cold sets into the ground and makes it crunch, the warmth inside is infectious and transcendent.
Not what it is about, but still nice...

Yes, holiday music is wretched and hellborn and the lighting tends toward garishness, but these are part of the experience. I wouldn't trade them for something subdued because that would be forced. I am not a Christian, but I have always loved this season. My ex, a Jew who converted to Wicca, was the most avid Christmas proselytizer I had ever met. This time of year brought twinkling lights into her eyes as few other things ever did.

A few weeks ago, I went to a Sinterklaas festival in Rhinebeck with Jinx (Melanie was embroiled in studying for finals and finishing lab reports to her satisfaction). The entire main street - a major thoroughfare - was shut down so the town could celebrate Christmas in an authentic Dutch fashion (which, once night settled, involved ghastly puppets twenty feet high and bemused llamas). Rhinebeck is already picturesque and just antiquated enough as it stands - it was where Chelsea Clinton opted to get hitched for this very reason and the locals are not shy about reminding anyone standing on the sidewalk for a moment - so the transition to being a proper setting for a Dutch winter festival was no more jarring that telling the tourist and suggesting to the businesses on the main streets that they might wish to get in on the act.
Jan van Woensel, the Christmas dragon!
I could walk no further than a block that day before men were offering me gratis hot chocolate or cookies, expecting nothing but my smile and a nod of thanks. Choirs popped up in full Dickensian garb to sing carols. Churches offered operatic plays and Christmas music from Georgia (the country, not the state). The assumption seemed to be that they genuinely wished people attending to have a good time this holiday season, not simply to corral them into stores and shake them loose of any change. This, of course, is to say nothing of the massive parade, the likes of which I have not seen in the summers here (to say nothing of ten degree weather). Sharing it with Jinx, my sister in spirit, makes the seasons energy reach me despite my shivering by the end of the festivities.

I get that Christmas is generally schmaltzy. I understand that it is used as a cynical cash grab nowadays. I know how far it is from what Jesus would have wanted or even what ancient Pagans (who set the date, sorry to say, Christians) could have envisioned. But I like that people put forth some effort to see one another during this season, that some people shake out of their commonplace anthood and toward sainthood. Even if the children do it because they fear Santa's wrath, there is a sense of goodwill we tend to forget when not faced with a sudden national tragedy. At the year draws to its close in this exhibition, you want the best for others, you want to spread your compassion. Your friends, who have woken up the last 364 days without anyone next to them in bed, seem to need your caring more on Christmas day.
Closer to what Christmas is about.

Despite affirming the acquisition of an allergy to pine trees that leaves me sick for days, I mark this as one of the best Christmases on record for my family. My brothers and I are more than old enough that the presents don't matter in the specific. This year, no one dashes out into the snow without socks or leaves in the midst of opening presents because of a seasonally aggravated case of hurt feelings. Even I, sneezing so hard I strain my neck, enjoy that my nieces no longer rip open stockpiled stacks of gifts like ravening beasts, but instead wait with unusual patience as we each take our turns. For me, it is as if this is the first times we are experiencing Christmas together as one family and not merely people in the same room snuffling through a floor of presents in not-so-silent opposition.

Like the poor Grinch (perpetually in the red and green of the holiday he hated), it takes these tableaus for me to figure out that Christmas doesn't come from a store, however much the television would insist otherwise. My gift to myself this year is to acknowledge that I would rather embrace wholesomeness unironically rather than letting the prevailing culture of detachment dictate how I feel about the world I see. (And The Maxx on DVD.)

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, linguistics.

last watched: The Maxx
reading: Last Chance to See
listening: Christmas carols

The Bliss in Another | 2010 | The Microcosm of One Night

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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