This isn’t the first year Christmas plans were cancelled. It’s the first official one due to a strange virus. In years past I spent more than a few holidays alone with no second thoughts about it. I’ve had plenty of memorable happy Yuletide celebrations and a few I’d like to forget. Like the old Andy Williams song, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”... or the worst day ever. Looking forward to solitude, too many seasonal festivities can leave you cold looking for a quick exit. Making excuses for blowing off stuffy work-related parties or fancy dinners isn’t easy but around the holidays it’s even worse. Now the pandemic leaves everything cancelled so there’s no opting out necessary.
I’ve reached an age where parties aren’t a big deal. Most of my family and friends live elsewhere or are dead. My wife’s family has adopted me as a wayward son so I’ve spent the last bunch of years celebrating at her siblings’ places or her mom’s house. This year it's just the cat and us for Christmas. No big plans to ring in the New Year either. Most evenings we’re hard pressed to keep our eyes open past nine p.m. Like most kids, I had a rough time trying to sleep through Christmas Eve in anticipation of morning’s first light to run downstairs and open presents piled under the tree. I was always the first one up, poking around the gift boxes to scope out my booty.
The sound of hot radiators clanked as a pressure valve on the side hissed and whistled like a tea kettle. Hot steam vapor mixed with dry air. It was a sensory delight of sights and sounds coupled with aromas and flavors of the holidays. The smells of favorite dishes cooking permeated the house, mingling with the scent of the decorated pine tree. The taste of peppermint mixed with whiskey spiked egg nog and the smell of my father’s after-shave lingered. The pleasure of waking to a snowy morning with my siblings fighting over toys, candy canes and chocolate. The sounds of wrapping paper tearing, the dog barking at all the excitement and laughter.
Mom in the kitchen, singing along to Christmas songs on the radio while busily preparing a family feast. A little metal train set went around in circles under the tree made me dizzy. The lights wrapped around fresh pine branches above blinked a bright rainbow of colors. Old-fashioned glass ball ornaments broke, hitting the wood floor as the dog knocked them down. Grabbing strands of silver tinsel in its snout, running around the house for us to chase him. It seemed like a game then, so naive in our pajamas with big grins, playing with toys that would soon break.
It always seems like yesterday because all those yesterdays accumulate the past perceptions we share today. How the hell did I survive all these years? This season’s greetings coming to a town near you has no sponsors or big budget. This is a country of tired, restless people, beaten up daily by the neighborhood bully. For those in a country who’ve been lied to so long it’s hard to find a reason to believe anything anymore. The dumbing down of a nation that lost its way before any of us were born. To discover everything you were told as gospel truth all along but was never true. Santa Claus is an imposter and Jesus is a white dude. Big lies.
Perhaps we should unlearn everything we were taught to believe and start fresh. Not repeat the same old crap over again. This modern world of lunatics full of hatred. My own ghosts visit from Christmas' past in a personal Christmas carol. There’s no colorful Dickensian characters, only a continuous parade of spirits who come calling in my slumber. Some are familiar while others are phantom strangers. An old friend contacted me recently after decades of silence with a few hilarious stories. The last message was a dream he’d had. All our friends, living and dead, were together again for a crab feast in my dearly departed Aunt Helen’s backyard. All those from my past and present were sitting around a picnic table, with steamed crabs and beer.
It’s weird that I had a similar dream recently. Friends and family gathered from the old days and the present, seated at a table enjoying a raucous feast together. Laughing, drinking and eating too much. High spirits with drunken gusto. It could’ve been a birthday or any holiday. Just like in real life except for dead friends in attendance as strange apparitions.
This holiday season will be quiet and easy. No social or family obligations requiring long-distance drives and overnight stays to other states. My wife hung our stockings on the mantle with care. She loves to decorate the house. She’s set up the Christmas tree that can’t be destroyed by our rowdy kitten.
A fresh layer of snow-covered memories blanket a world of sin made pure. There’s a toasty fire in the fireplace. Come in from the cold and warm your bones by the fire. Nod off to that dreamy place of forgotten gifts under another Christmas tree from a distant childhood. That reoccurring dream where old friends and family are waiting for you. The vintage snapshot of mom standing next to the tree from a past Christmas. She’s looking forever young and so happy.