The Delicate Balance of Christmas

Every Christmas is a snow fairy ballerina poised on one pointed toe atop a weather vane. The form it takes is conventional, and yet precarious. We share a palette of images scavenged from art and ritual, but as far as direction goes, we may as well just throw them all up into the wind and see what pattern they form in falling. Despite a wealth of cultural models, as well as more local and family-generated traditions, there is no checklist to consult to know whether we are carrying out the occasion in the manner of a good person.

Ever bought a bunch of stuff for Christmas and then wondered if you’ve made yourself part of the crass commercialisation that has ripped the meaning out of familial rituals in order to line the pockets of the already wealthy? Ever decided to have a pared-back Christmas because you were trying not to be crassly commercialised, or were just a bit broke, and then missed stuff? Ever decided to do the latter, and then ended up doing the former?

This year is forcing every one of use to reassess which parts of the holiday season (even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you are always obliged to make adjustments around the cluster of public holidays and changes in availability of both services and companionship) are necessary, valuable, desirable, possible. No action performed automatically, no choice to be made unthinkingly. Making substitutions (Zoom calls for visits, cheaper pressies, carols or the panto online instead of live) causes us to distinguish between the surface form and the inherent meaning of what we do each year. Some things have been forcibly taken away, and some are things that we must make choices about, and these are now making us aware that we have always made choices at Christmas. Much of this relates to how much we can do for others. How many charity donations? How much time with dreadful relatives who upset us? Will anyone actually care if the gingerbread is home baked? Plenty of people, even more than usual this year, have to make a choice about whether to seek the help of charities, or find ways to get by without. This year we all, additionally, have to make decisions about what is safe, and we have to consciously avoid putting others at risk.

OK, so, a shrink once told me I have an excessively dominant superego, and we can add one more thing to 2020’s naughty list that it has lit the touch paper on that particular cherry bomb.

quality cousin time

We bought a real, cut pine tree that turned out to be more vast than we realised, once we got it inside. Grabbing the chance to make home feel a bit special and magical seemed disproportionately important, given we are spending so much time here. We didn’t get it from a charity this year, but we did buy it from a small, independent, local nursery. So – succumbing to the commercial or creating memorable family time? It was a huge indulgence, but I’m getting such delight from looking at it every day, and who can say what that is worth?

Special thoughts, this year, are going out to those who are isolated by circumstance. May everyone find a place of safety and companionship. Hugs and gingerbread to all.

One thought on “The Delicate Balance of Christmas

  1. well, wait till you have to vacuum up the needles! But in general I am pro-real-tree. We have had an artificial tree lately but not because we love it or appreciate its environmentally friendlier status.

    I sympathize with this meditation on the ambiguities of Christmas a LOT. For various reasons this Christmas may mark a number of caesuras in our lives, and so I wanted to make a little more effort (and spend a little more) but not break myself or the bank. I resolved every conflict I felt in favor of spending, which felt awful when I was doing it. But when I opened the $18 / lb box of butter Christmas cookies on Xmas Eve and realized that I had saved myself two whole days of baking, it did seem worth it. And that was even before I put a few in my mouth — memories of grandmothers who baked for days to achieve that arose entirely without reference to my own unpleasant feelings about baking / guilt about not having baked myself. For some reason it seems like it’s the little flourishes that cost the most. (E.g., I made prunes in Armagnac for Xmas Eve dessert — $4 for the prunes, $62 for the brandy.) But then, we are rewarding the labor of a lot of people there. I do try to buy local. I kept it at one meaningful present per recipient (no frivolous schnick-schnack or plastic), spending a little more but not a lot more. I suppose I will cringe when I see the final bills. Ah well. We are fortunate to have the resources, and it won’t be like this again. Different, and hopefully somewhat less restrictive / restricted.

    Merry Christmas!

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