This is probably the last thing that I should be writing, right now. As of this particular moment in time on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence the question, “What does Christmas mean to me,” can be answered with one word and one word only: Pain. As in sinus, head and throat. As in I woke up this past, Monday Morning–Christmas Eve for those of you that have been living under a rock or do not celebrate Jesus Christ’s birthday–with virtually the same ailment that both of my girls had last week. But wait, you may argue, didn’t your girls have two, separate ailments? Yes. They did, and I got the best of both worlds, i.e. Cara’s fever and Natalie’s congestion. I am a walking, talking, barely breathing, woozy headed, medicated facsimile of a smiling face, right now, and the smiley face? I’ve only got that on for my customers. I’d much rather drink a bottle of Nyquil and crawl up in to a corner for the next day and a half. But I can’t. I won’t. ‘Cause as Freddy Mercury so aptly sang despite his foreknowledge of his own, personal condition, “The show must go on!”
To be honest with you? The only reason that I’m here and not at home, in bed right now is because I need to ensure that the dozen or so moving parts of the massive cylinder order leaving the factory for my biggest OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) this PM get off without a hitch. That’s the kind of thing that I do for my customers, guys. Most Inside Sales/Customer Service people punch in quotes, punch in orders and talk on the phone only when unnecessary. They take sick time when they’re sick (and sometimes when they’re not). But me? I throw myself bodily in to my work. I persevere despite how incredibly sh*tty I feel. I go out and visit my customers. I get to know them on a personal level and not just a professional one. I’m not sure why I do it that way, I just do. And it seems to work pretty well so really, why f*ck around with the system?
Because the older I get, the worse I feel. Yes, I know I’m only 37 years young but “getting sick” can’t be cured by 30 Jello shots and a bottle of champagne anymore. I need real medicine and I need rest. And consistent rest is something I have not been getting these last few weeks.
So why? Why chose now to write a blog post about what Christmas means to me? Won’t your answers be skewed by your condition, you may argue. They may. But I just popped a couple of Tylenol Severe Cold and Flu that I picked up at 7-11, along with a low sugar, Monster Energy Drink and I can already feel my nasal pathways, my head and my chest drying up. It’s amazing what Acetaminophen can do when combined with an antihistamine and caffeine. I’m not saying that I feel 100% better… I don’t. But I’m feeling a bit more functional than I was a few paragraphs ago and some things? Well, I’ve waited a few days to write this and I don’t want to wait any longer lest I forget them. So damn the pounding in my ears, I’m goin’ for broke.
This past Christmas–or this past Tuesday for those of you that have been living under a rock or only celebrate Hanukkah–was my 38th on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Mind you, I really don’t remember the first couple but I can remember from roughly my fifth or sixth on. I can’t recall every gift… every detail of those earliest Christmas mornings but I can remember how they felt. In short? They felt magical. Before I knew the sad truth about Santa Claus; before I learned that reindeer generally don’t fly, not even with some of Cheech and Chong’s magic dust; before I realized that my then-father now sperm donor had eaten the cookies and drank the milk that I and my little sister had diligently left out for the other big guy, Christmas morning was a time of infinite possibility. In truth? It was the only time. Not even my birthday could match it’s awesomeness.
All that changed as I got older and realized “the truth.” Christmas morning was a time of necessity. It was a time to get up before 10:00 AM–something which I rarely did in my teens–and eat breakfast with my mother and my sister. It was a time to open my significantly smaller pile of gifts with each, passing year despite the fact that all I really wanted to do was kick back on the couch and watch “A Christmas Story” over and over again. Magical gifts like the original Millennium Falcon and the Darth Vader carrying case–both of which are worth bow-coo bucks presently in mint condition; who knew?–were replaced by clothes, more clothes and the occasional novelty gift, i.e. “junk.” All this culminated in my first Christmas away from home–1997 for those of you that are counting–when I slept too late at my apartment, missed Christmas breakfast and showed up at my Mom’s hungover and smelling of tequila and cigarettes around noon. I still don’t know if my mother ever forgave me for that trespass. If she still begrudges me it let me formally state the obvious herein: I’m sorry. And if she forgot about it some time ago? Well, I guess I can’t blame her. Only pseudo-madmen like myself can remember things as mundane and inane as this and can barely remember what they ate for lunch yesterday.
For the record, it was leftover Eggplant Parmesan, a meatball and a low sugar, Monster Energy Drink. Anyone else sensing that “caffeine dependency” is a theme for your old buddy the Madchronicler? My neurologist would have a field day with my caffeine consumption, presently. No migraines for the moment. Just a pounding in my sinuses, my head and my chest that already appears to be returning despite the fact that I just popped those Tylenol Cold and Sinuses an hour ago. All together now: Oh f*ck me. Sorry, but I abandoned oh thank God last night.
And then, three plus years ago, something amazing and unexpected happened: My wife and I had a child. Okay, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected. We had been trying for a while. But it wasn’t Cara’s birth that I was referring to as “unexpected.” It was my own renewed interest in Christmas. I remember waking up that December 25th, long before Cara and Nicole did in anticipation of Cara’s reaction to seeing all of her presents under the tree… of her happiness at realizing that Santa had eaten all of his cookies and drank all of his milk. I guess in my elation, I neglected to realize that Cara was only five months and some change old at the time and could barely sit up, much less realize that some jolly and jiggly, red suit clad, cookie and milk loving sot had slid down our non-existent chimney and left her an army of Fisher Price, Playschool and Leap Pad stuff. Still, it was fun opening her presents for her and giving her the paper to play with.
But a fundamental change had been enacted in my life, guys. With each, subsequent year I got more and more “in” to Christmas as Cara realized more and more that something different was happening. This year, my wife and I had our second child (Natalie for those of you keeping score), and Cara turned three. And I knew, even before the season started that this Christmas was going to be as fun as hell.
My anticipation reached a feverish level on Monday night–Christmas Eve for those of you that have been living under a rock or who celebrate Kwanzaa–and that wasn’t because of the temperature I was running. It wasn’t due to the myriad medicines, the two low sugar, Monster Energy drinks that I had consumed or the periodic shots of vodka I was taking when mine and my wife’s families weren’t looking to dull the itch in my throat. Okay, so maybe those factors played in to it a bit but I got very little sleep and was up before anyone else on Christmas morning. I actually had to wait a half an hour for Cara and Nicole to wake up (Natalie is still portable and hence not as much a wakeful necessity) before I could go downstairs. But when I walked down those stairs and saw all of the presents under the tree and against the wall behind and beside it… when I looked over at the end table and saw the cookie crumbs on the plate that Cara had left for Santa, the empty cup that smelled a little like sour milk and the note that Santa had left Cara and Natalie? Well sh*t. I felt the magic come flooding back in to my living room for the first time since I was an impressionable youth despite the fact that I knew “the truth” behind the staged scene laid out before me. It. Was. Christmas! And there was much rejoicing.
In short? I had come full circle, friends. As I turned on the tree and the iPad underneath it which had “Merry Christmas!” written in bold, flowing purple letters across its face I realized that the reaction that I was about to witness in Cara was the same as the reaction that my own mother and, for a time, my own father turned sperm donor had witnessed in me on those early, Christmas mornings of my life on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. The impression of the prototypical, Thomas Kincade Christmas morning was heightened by the rapidly melting, coat of white snow that lay upon the ground outside and the lingering scent of baked cookies that hung over my head from the previous day. Throw in a roaring fireplace which we do not have (the Yule Log is not a sufficient substitute, BTW) and you’ve got a scene to rival any cinematic vision of Christmas morning ever created including my all time favorite, the one that takes place in the Nexus for Captain Jean Luc Picard in “Star Trek: Generations.” Yes, I went there. Don’t believe me? Check it out at your leisure and tell me I’m wrong. I triple dog dare you.
In a word? No. It did not.
Wow. Talk about anti-climactic.
I’m serious, though. It played out like this: Cara came downstairs, smiled and stated very nonchalantly that “Santa was here” before she seated herself next to where my wife indicated her pile was and began to rip through her presents. She further “assisted” her little sister, myself and my wife with our piles. As the process unfolded she seemed to get more and more “in” to what she was doing but admittedly, the entire outcome was somewhat unexpected considering how sure I had been of her reaction leading up to it. After a whirlwind 45 minutes, everything was opened and she was asking me and my wife to remove toys from boxes so she could play with them.
In all honesty? I should have been prepared for it as soon as she came in to mine and my wife’s bedroom and informed us that she did not believe that Santa had come ’cause she had not heard him or his reindeer on the roof of our house. Which is a legitimate point as the ceiling of her room is directly beneath said rooftop. But I was not. Don’t get me wrong: I was not disappointed. Far from it, actually. I savored every shredded piece of wrapping paper that fell upon our living room floor and every “ooh” and “ahh” that her gifts elicited. And I did not for once doubt her belief that “Santa was here” despite her not having heard him and his reindeer because, as she stated at numerous points over the course of the following day and evening, Santa had gotten her everything that she had asked for and she was very thankful.
Perhaps I simply built the scenario up too much in my mind. Maybe she wasn’t quite as ready to embrace the magic of Christmas morning as I thought she was at three and a half. Or maybe the times have changed and the mentalities of our children have done the same. I’m inclined to lean more toward the latter though the former is also a distinct possibility. Little exists in the way of magic nowadays and what does exist is called “fantasy” by most. Our kids? They learn this from the get go. More attention is paid to the sciences and mathematics than is paid to the arts, nowadays. As for me? I’m not a true believer in magic as it exists traditionally though I am a lover of everything and anything fantasy. Wizards and witches, warlocks and leprechauns? There is no place for such things in a world where everything from a holiday to our national debt is analyzed at the microscopic or, some might say quantum level. Such things now fall in to the realm of “fiction” and not “reality.” Not even “Little Kid Reality.”
And Christmas? Both the story that we all know so well and the fundamental spirituality at the center of it (see: Jesus Christ; Saint Nicholas) have been glossed over by the big box retailers and the idea guys. Case in point: The Elf on the Shelf. While I love ours like a member of our family, albeit one that merely shows up for approximately 30 days at the end of the year, wreaks havoc and then leaves, where is Jingle in the traditional canon of Christmas? What child ever wrote in their “What Christmas Means To Me” essay, “My Elf on the Shelf, Buddy, who likes to TP our Christmas tree and have an affair with Barbie right under Ken’s nose.”
None that I know of though there’s always the possibility that there’s some sick and twisted kid out there that thinks like I do. The fact is, Christmas in 2012 (pushing 2013) is not the same as it was 30 plus years ago, or even 15 years ago in 1997. Our children are not the same. Whereas my generation and I were born in to a world of notebooks, number two pencils and Trapper Keepers, Cara and Natalie’s generation is being born in to a world of iPads and Cloud storage. All one of them needs to do is Google “is Santa Claus real” and “the truth” will be revealed. My generation, disenchanted with the magic of Christmas created the same technologies that our children are now being born with. The Catch-22? We used our imaginations to create such things, the same imaginations that once upon a time believed that Santa Claus and his reindeer flew to and landed silently upon our rooftops despite the fact that reindeer aren’t supposed to be able to fly, not even with a sprinkling of Cheech and Chong’s magic dust…
…that Santa slid down our chimneys despite the fact that 75 to 80% of us, growing up, did not have chimneys and the physics of a 400 pound man sliding through an opening with a diameter of a foot are virtually inconceivable…
…that he ate the cookies and drank the milk that we had diligently left out for him…
…that the Thomas Kincade scenes imprinted upon Christmas and post cards, and popularized in movies like “Star Trek: Generations” were, in fact, actual scenes of the perfect Christmas morning that at some point in time existed on this, or any side of the proverbial wormhole of existence.
We created the mentality that our children are now being born with: That everything once considered magical or fantastical has been relegated to the fiction shelf of your local big box, book retailer (see: Barnes and Noble), or the online store of your preferred internet, big box retailer (see: Amazon.com). Even Christmas. But still, there is that teeny, tiny part of me that was watching Cara very, very closely on Christmas morning and could see, despite her nonchalant exterior, a twinkle in her eyes that had not existed the previous evening when I had put her to bed. She saw all of those presents beneath the Christmas tree, the empty plate that had once held cookies and the cup beside it that had once held milk, the note that was printed in her Mommy’s distinctive handwriting and she knew that something had happened. Maybe not something magical but something special. Someone had come, be said someone Santa Claus or Daddy/Mommy Claus, and said someone had gotten her everything that she had put on her Christmas list…
And she was very thankful.
What does Christmas mean to me? The same thing that it meant to me when I was a child. I drowned it for a while with tequila and cigarettes, not to mention a heaping dose of skepticism, one too many viewings of “A Christmas Story” and one too few mornings simply sitting around the Yule Log, enjoying my family’s company. I forgot about it for a while but over these last few years, I’ve remembered it. Even without magic, Christmas morning has been and always will be a time of infinite possibility.
As for Cara? Well sh*t. She’s only three and a half. I can only remember as far back as my fifth or sixth Christmas.
Happy Holidays, everyone.