Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Glass Half Full

Does anyone else have a problem with radio stations that play Christmas music on Thanksgiving? I do. To me it’s the invited guest that shows up 30 minutes early. I’m still trying to get the desserts cooked and I’m forced to fast forward beyond the moment. I want to scream "Wait! We're not done with this holiday yet!" But every year, the musical ghost of Christmas Present comes about 24 hours too early. I think its there to help the retailers who need people in an instant holiday mood - the mood that makes people so willing to part with cash on stuff they would never - ever -buy at any other time of the year. When I walk into a store, I chuckle at some of the stuff that is for sale. I mean, how desperate must someone be to purchase a Homer Simpson Chia pet? Is there nothing better to give as a gift than a wall-mounted fish that sings? The fact is, if you can't find anything more meaningful to give than that, then the person you are buying for is clearly not in need of anything!

Every kid's mantra is "What I want for Christmas is..." Don't get me wrong: this is not going to be some anti-consumerism screed. Au contraire. On my runs of late, I've been thinking particularly about this particular season and how it's quite contradictory. While the lesson of the season is that it is better to give than to receive, I see it as a season of "want". What do you want for Christmas? What's on your Christmas list? Little kids are quick to rattle off the items that'll make their hearts flutter on Christmas morning. But when you get older, I think it’s harder to answer. At least it is for me. What do I really need that can be bought in a store? It's the time of year when we focus on what we don't have, and replace it with stuff that we really don't need. It just kind of fills a seasonal void.

Even with that quasi-morose thought, I still find myself drawn to the season. Just after Thanksgiving, the dark morning or early evening runs become a voyage of discovery - to see which house has but up lights this day. On Christmas eve, I load up my iPod with Christmas tunes and hit the roads, a smile on my face and cheer fueling my legs. Later that evening, our neighborhood has a standing tradition of placing luminaries on our respective properties, on the road. The roads of Salisbury are lined with thousands of glowing candles - truly beautiful. Perhaps this isn't the right time to mention our first Christmas here in Richmond, when I set out our luminaries, lit the small tea candles inside the white paper bags, and retreated to our front porch to view my handiwork. What I saw was truly remarkable, and quite different than expected: several of my bags were going up in flames. I had a moment of panic that I would become the Richmond equivalent of Mrs. O'Leary's cow, and was certain, somewhere, that Martha Stewart was having a seizure.

I love making the magic for my kids on Christmas. I remember one year - in a fit of alpha-mommy grandeur - I made a home-made Gingerbread house, recipe and architecture courtesy of Martha Steward and her Turkey-Hill elves. It was a work of art, truly, and took 2 days to make and assemble. It was pure gingerbread, with a thatched roof of shredded wheat, and caramelized sugar window panes. On Christmas, I had the brilliant idea of - during dinner - putting a tea light in the house to light the windows. It created a lovely glow. I expected a miniature Hansel and Gretel to come dashing out of it at any moment. And it smelled heavenly: The candle heated the gingerbread and it smelled fairy-tale like. The heat of the candle, however, melted the glass windowpanes, something that never, ever happens in Martha Stewart land.

I probably should have saved that house, sprayed it with lacquer and brought it out year after year. Maybe given the roof a quick refurb with a new set of frosted shredded wheat tiles, replaced the window panes. But I didn't. I pitched it after the holiday was over. Why? It was a labor of love; why would I discard it so quickly? I don't know. Maybe the magic that it cast expired after the New Year. Like decorations for sale in a store, they look faded and tired once the holiday is over.

My kids are getting older and wiser, and they don’t ‘buy in’ to the magic as much. I find myself trying to protect them more from the rampant consumerism, and to remind them – as a friend recently reminded me – to not forget ‘the baby’.

The season comes too swiftly and leaves equally fast, and I find myself often left feeling a bit empty when it’s over. I’m selfish: I want the glow to keep going. I often tell my kids that it’s good to not always get what you want; if you did, how boring life would be. I guess things aren’t as special if they are always guaranteed to be had.

I wish for the same thing every year at Christmas. It’s something very personal, and very simple, and mine and mine alone. I’ve learned some wonderful lessons this year and will – instead of wishing for anything – be thankful for having lived and learned those lessons. In hanging on to what I don’t have I’m not living in the season of doing for others before myself. Instead, when someone asks me what I want for Christmas, I’ll say nothing, and smile, to them and to myself. In my own way, I’ll reclaim the beauty, simplicity, and joy of this season, to hear the music, to smell the pine, to live the miracle and be true to my mantra thank you for this day. For a myriad of reasons, this year, it will be more than enough.