Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas 2016 After-Action Report

Reconnecting with Christmas by reinventing and rethinking years of approach. I’m pretty sure that’s the moral here. Hoo-wee, it was cold. 

Shortly after nightfall on Christmas Eve, it became clear we’d all need time on Christmas Day to re-combobulate from the hangovers we were sure to have in the morning as my adult daughter and her friend prepared for their three hour ride back to Colorado Springs that same day. My wife and I agreed it made sense to open the gifts after midnight, so that everyone could sleep as long as they needed in the morning. 

And so it was that over half a century of tradition was kicked to the curb in one easy decision. Nor did we play Vince Guaraldi’s piano lounge jazz soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, as my wife and I have done while opening the presents for most of the Christmases we’ve been married since 1990. It never occurred to me to put it on. 

Your humble author clowning with
the 30 lb kettlebell Santa brought him.
If I’m throwing 25 years of tradition out the window, what’s another 30? It’s 2016, after all, that annus horribilis that’s taken all our favorite singers and musicians and celebrities. Yet even the loss of my personal favorites became so much background noise to me as I watched my son wind up his eight-year Civil Air Patrol cadet career, purchase a car, and then move out, a young man on his own. We put the house up for sale, while searching across Colorado for a new place before settling on Big Pink in the San Luis Valley. We were cooped up way too long with our cats in a small hotel room before closing on Big Pink, then got jacked around by the moving company before spending all of our former house sale proceeds rewiring the place, fixing the leaks in the plumbing, etc. 

It’s been a jam-packed year. The changes were big, the changes were permanent, and, like most of those celebrity deaths everyone’s wailing about on Facebook and Twitter, they were due to happen. 

I’m relieved to say this is finally sinking in. It’s taken the entire year, but I’m so grateful to be free of this hateful, paralytic melancholy, I don’t care. It was my own private little Christmas miracle, a gift I accept with open heart.

After midnight, we gathered around the tree. My daughter’s friend, bless her, delighted in putting on the Santa hat and doling out the gifts, then photographing us as we opened them. It didn’t feel the least bit strange doing this before bed on what could still be technically called Christmas Eve. The decision justified itself many times over in the morning, as everyone got up when they wanted on Christmas Day. We enjoyed coffee, and a modest, but tasty meal of baked ham, homemade macaroni and cheese, and cranberry sauce, before my daughter and her friend slowly got themselves together for the long ride back to Colorado Springs.

My wife and I shared a moment (actually several) of deep sadness watching our daughter go, and as we held each other in glorious wintry white Christmas light, I resolved to smash another tradition. Namely, this morbid business of me having to stop and compose myself every fifteen minutes because it seems the veil between me and everything that overwhelms me with grief is somehow thinnest this time of year.

I’ve justified this with my “we exclude nothing!” takeaway from Charles Dickens’ essay, “What Christmas Is As We Grow Older,” that grieving for absent loved ones is natural to our observance of the season. Yet I found myself choked up, not over absent friends and family, but over the most maudlin and useless things. I’d rather not go into detail; it’s embarrassing to think about. Suffice it to say I’m working my way past this madness that has marred so many otherwise fine Christmases for me over the years. 2016 hasn’t been a total wash.

My wife spoke with her mother over the phone. We both spoke to our son, who was happy spending the time with his girlfriend and her family in Colorado Springs. Later, we took a walk around the block to see what was going on in downtown Monte Vista as the last light of Christmas Day left the sky. The traffic was heavier than I expected on US 160, but it was otherwise quiet. The severe cold, magnified by the snow blown in the night before, ensured that one block was as far as we were walking. We returned home and settled in for the evening.

There was no let-down. It all felt the way it was supposed to be. I worked on cleaning out the spare bedroom while listening to music. I caught a few Christmas tunes while bopping between the attic off my closet and the spare bedroom. All the ones I needed.

It was a good day, and a fine Christmas.
See you next year?