Here we are, deep in heart of the holiday season and people keep asking the question, "Just what is this Christmas thing, anyway?" Perhaps not in those words, but with their own poems, rants, tears, sarcastic laughter, and even litigation. It makes me wonder at the variety of feelings packed into this unquantifiable timescape. You ask a hundred people what it is, what it means, and you'll get five hundred answers. I see it in the large-a gestaltic catharsis whence we all take a psychic break from our mundane thought processes and try to gauge where we are going in life and if that's the direction in which we want to continue.
As for me, I've just taken a new direction and am still trying to figure out in what language the streetsigns are written. As best I can guess, most of them in this neighborhood of LJ are saying, "Keep Left," heh; but I've been voting anti-fascist since next year's high school grads were still wondering what their peepees were for.
Christmas, to me, was once a time of anticipation surrounding mysterious boxes of brightly colored paper. Santa Claus never seemed to realize that I wasn't a 'nice boy'; yet, at the same time, never quite gave me what was on my lists. It didn't take me long to lose the belief in that Jolly Old Elf, however (the fact that my mom left the front door unlocked because we had no chimney was a clue), and with it went my youthful faith in a great many things. I never felt it a loss, though. My world has always been a neverending experiment, a streamofthought question mark, in which even lies told to children become hypotheses to be disproven by empirical research.
Now, Christmas means less to me an experience in itself, but rather a meter with which to calibrate my images of others. What do you think about it? is the question I ask. Oh, I still get knickknacks here and there and give what I can, but it's the emotional outflows I crave. It's the crying on my shoulder and the wild abandon of friendly reunions that I cherish. The pages of LJ are rife with lists of loot or the conspicuous lack thereof, but the best gifts I've gotten so far this year aren't listable in terms of product endorsement and can't be confined within barriers of wrapping paper.
Going at it from a different angle, the question has been, "Where did Christmas come from?" Again, not in those words, and too often not a question asked from curiousity for the subject itself, but as a test to find out what 'box' the answerer comes in. And again, there are many more answers than persons asked; yet here also I have found that, from my viewpoint, it's not the answers themselves that hold the most meaning. It's the interchange that is begun, not ended, by the replies. Many of my relationships have taken an unforseen turn with these 'little conversations'; a turn which, for better or worse, like sex among friends, always leads forward. And, in my unhumble opinion, that's how it should be.
Among the definitions for Christmas one will often hear such catchphrases as 'Jesus', 'Yuletide', or 'Winter Solstice'. Yet after reading a wealth of scriptures, historical treatises, anthropological surveys, and works on archeology as well as listening to the opinions of a raging buttload of people; I've come to the conclusion that Christmas, and the winter holidays in general, must be somehow genetically coded into us. That's right, folks; I think it's a natural, psychological phenomenon, somewhat akin to our nightly dreamstates, that we developed about the time we started screaming back at the thunder and lightning in order to stave off the apparent white death of our world by turning inward. Catharsis.
You know why tropical cultures have never concentrated their happy/unhappy occasions into one wintery braingasm? They don't need to. Their annual events tended to come as harvest exchanges caused by the intermittancy of migratory lifestyles. They followed their food until it reached the breeding grounds. They had no cold, snowy winters to force them to hybernate in their Hobbitholes. Perhaps this is a reason we in this country have our own dichotomy when it comes to Christmas. Lalaland has no lake effect and so very few snowshoes or snowmobiles (they do have mountains nearby which gives them the privilege of deciding whether they want to have a 'real' winter or not); my own Cowtown has a schizoid winter season (today it was around seventy and clear but next week we might have an ice storm) which gives us years in which can be heard comments like, "It just doesn't feel like Christmas this year," and even the oldest among us can count 'white Christmasses' on one hand. You who live in upstate New York or International Falls generally have no choice but to watch the snow fall and learn to love cozy evenings by the fire.
Wherever we are born in this country, however, we are bombarded by the vestiges of a Eurocentric culture that has been steeped in the cave bear traditions since obese women were considered by their male suitors to be the epitome of heath and fertility. Therefore the time surrounding the shortest days have remained a memetic Power; one that finds its outlet in the roilling recesses of our minds and emotions. It was there long before Jesus, in the temples of the Greeks and the wicker simulacrums of the west. Carried deep into the heart of the siberian wilderness by the bearded hordes and driven deeper than broadswords into the sagas of the Norse. That tree in your living room isn't from the Garden of Eden, but the halls of the Mountain Kings; likewise, your wreath, your fireplace, and all of that rich, unhealthy goodness you're eating.
That doesn't make it a false tradition, only one more encompassing than you ever imagined singing carols around the piano. Don't try to run from it; even alone in your one bed, one bath, half kitchen apartment you can't escape its emotional influence. Embrace it, work through it, use it to your advantage. Whatever you do, don't just think of it as the day that we should go to church for Grandma's sake or stay away in rebellion; it's a time hardwired in our brains for self-examination. The trimmings and the traditions are just there to signal its coming; it's definition is up to you. The powers that be can only give it names like Christmas, Channukah, and New Year's Eve; you make it holy. Blessed Be!