Following tradition of the past couple years, I’ll go with some of my friends to the Indianapolis tree lighting. This time we showed up late, paid too much for parking, got separated in a tight crowd, couldn’t hear anything, had to respond to insane strangers, felt cold, all to see a switch flipped and quickly scatter to the nearest restaurant.
I also decided to do Black Friday, a thing we all made up to sell shower radios or something. I decided to go to Wal-Mart, and I wasn’t doing the Jane Fonda, “I’m gonna essay about this later,” but to buy a TV. Though, I did complain about it on Twitter.
Christmas is continually and cleverly trivialized. Every year we’re fed an idea of Christmas that’s insulting as it is impersonal. Canned is a good word for this. (TV tries to convince us people actually buy luxury cars as gifts.) There’s a lot of trying going on that doesn’t serve much of a purpose, precisely because compassion, empathy, and nurturance are given low priority in society, especially one of endless economic growth. The easiest way to make us try is to sell an idea, and the best way to do that is to present an ideal as the norm. It ends up feeling more packaged than natural, a predictable byproduct of a culture that asks that everyone stop what they’re doing and Christmas, not really giving us a good idea of what that should mean.
That’s what I mean by chaos, trying to do Christmas like they want us to and also the way it’s supposed to, trying to find out what both means while not doing either, the fretting that comes with the responsibility of expressing meaning for something that actually has meaning. I don’t know many things more difficult and risky than presenting importance. And yet Christmas should be the easiest thing of all to make out to be important! It’s a time to celebrate love and hope and peace with loved ones (few do), or if we take it literally, it’s a scheduled history lesson to allot emotional strength to religiously reflect (fewer do), or to buy each other some stuff to stand in for lapses in the former. No disrespect; I love stuff. Though stuff does a good job at collecting dust, and I can never enjoy a videogame as much as I enjoyed Banjo Kazooie.
But I love Christmas! I love Christmas, right? When people ask me, I’ll always say I love Christmas, even with all it’s traffic jams and familial dinners, the commercial expose, wanting and the gross expectation of getting, saying that this gift will come in handy, really, late church services and shouting empty canticles, Gloria in excelsis Deo!, and it makes me wonder if there’s any other way to be doing this and what all this work is even for.
And I think it all hit me at the tree lighting, as I heard every small child ever crying half as reaction and half as a request, a mother maneuvering her stroller through continually closing space, young punks slipping through past because they feel the right to live faster, the faintly audible chorus of a cloying jingle made spectacular and lifeless by the singers and backing band of the nearest mega church that values production value and mass attendance over individual reflection and growth, a reddened father mouthing that he had been nice to everybody all day, but some people are testing his patience and he just doesn’t know what he’s even gonna do…, the spoken and not regrets that everyone chose to come here at all, that it was just as bad last year, do you remember how it was last year, that it was exactly the same as it is now, wait, and that it’ll be the exact same next year, hold on, and that we’ll be upset about the same expected things and not, ok, and maybe that’ll be ok, and why am I smiling when I can’t control anything that’s going wrong with life, and why would I be crying if there weren’t people here, so what am I supposed to do, and so what, god shut up, and why is Kiotta asking me why I’m smiling, and why do I feel uncomfortable and serene all at once in this noise, and why do I feel as though this is really what Christmas is to me at all, entanglement and human chaos in a cavity of wanting and disappointment, and that even here, maybe only here in this arrant constant that I can feel love, and that I can feel hope, and that I can feel peace, and how I want so much to have it some other way, but not really, and how I wish you a Merry Christmas, with all its frith and frivolity. Flip that switch.