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Love Note | 2013 | An Outdated New Year

12.27.13

A writer's problem does not change. He himself changes and the world he lives in changes, but his problem remains the same. It is always how to write truly and having found what is true, to project it is such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who reads it.  

-Ernest Hemingway

 


The Sameness of Christmas

Christmas  
Not totally what Christmas is about, but a fair component

People bemoan how this season did not feel like Christmas, that December 25th came and went without causing their hearts to grow three sizes or an angelic stranger helping them learn the true meaning of caring for the homeless. We paw at nostalgia even before we hit twenty, wanting a holiday that likely never happened, a wholesomeness that could not survive in the wilds of the seventies, eighties, or nineties.

The sample bias I no doubt experienced is that I read these complaints online, where we are surrounded by sameness. The Christmas I remember and miss involves my mother's cookies (basic Tollhouse plus walnuts I disliked until they became an inextricable aspect of the experience), snow forts (which I no longer build since snow now means inconvenience and shoveling far more than it does fun), and huddling around my parents' TV when the few networks we could get played The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas, or - very rarely - The Christmas Toy or National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I can stream or download all of these specials now, making them just another stream of data. Since there is no scarcity, no communal component of the viewing, I tend not to bother watching them at all. I could marathon them all in July with eighties appropriate commercials interspersed with almost no effort (play movie, stop every ten minutes to watch a three on a Youtube playlist of eighties holiday commercials, resume).

As sadly American as this sounds, the forced culture of holiday TV specials, that magical preamble where characters reenacted Dickens, mattered to me. Christmas was gluing cotton balls to Coke ads in fifth grade, sneaking candy canes off the tree daily (that my parents replaced every few nights), enough wrapping paper to cover a room, the terror and delight of knowing a magical being would enter my home while I slept. My Christmas was a sum total of the ministrations of adults, usually adults who wanted me to encourage my parents to buy something for me to consume.

I don't recall a holiday in many years which was anything other than Something to Do, not much more exciting than a movie or concert. I lost the holiness of the experience. There is no magic to Halloween for me when I am encouraged to wander through an autumn night in a scary mask, demanding sugary extortion. My Christmas shopping was accomplished in a few hours on Amazon, not by elbowing my way through packed malls. Amber decorated our apartment in a couple of hours during a snowy day, from a box that has seen three closets and little daylight. Our tree is two and a half feet of plastic and wire because I acquired an allergy to the mold and spores that linger on the authentic counterparts. To have the experience I did as a child, I would have to be a physically different being, one with whom I share nothing. On a cellular lever, I am not him. And maybe I have never has the Christmas I remember. I have woven together a few dozen scraps (the Sears catalog, my father videoing everything we did, Christmas parties and visits with Santa) and pretended that amounted to one perfect, cohesive moment, but I am as guilty as baby-boomers, who dictated unconsciously that all the songs the listened to in 1963 would be the timeless Christmas standards of today.

The problem is not that Santa stops existing but that we do. The children we are no longer exist, a fact we do not help through immersing ourselves in the repeating cycle of wake, work, dinner, internet, sleep. If you want a Christmas like you remember, if you want it to feel like Christmas, lose your phone and internet connection. Turn your life over to your parents or an indulgent adult. Make sincere presents out of gold spray painted macaroni. Go caroling. Connect to those around you, who are likely a bit too occupied with speculating about the Doctor Who episode or reading celebrity gossip on their phones. Otherwise, the days will speed pass because we are giving our memories nothing to which to attach, no bumps to slow the speed of time. Make it feel like Christmas by force and to the benefit of small children. No one will make it Christmas for you. If you are old enough to feel angst about how a holiday "feels," you are very likely no longer in the target demographic.

The Grinch figured it out. Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store, so he needed to force himself into the den of jolliness. The Whos were not coming to him.

Soon in Xenology: New Year.

last watched: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
reading: Black Swan Green
listening: Christmas carols

Love Note | 2013 | An Outdated New Year

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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