Saturday, December 09, 2006

Broken Christmases Part IV

Then there are the Christmases broken by illness. I had so looked forward to Bob's and my first Christmas together in our own home with our own tree the year we got married. Bob loves to buy gifts for me, and for once, I was with a man I knew I could lavish with gifts who wouldn't feel guilty, because all he'd bought me was a CD from the sale rack. So what happened? We both came down with severe chest colds that prevented us from doing much more than dragging ourselves from the bed to the kitchen to make cups of hot tea and back again. Forget Christmas shopping. We had a total of about three presents under the tree that year.

When everyone is the epitome of good health, the weather will do its best to interfere. One Christmas, Bob and I were looking forward to entertaining Forsyth, who had recently divorced, and our two young nieces. Having worried that the weather in our neck of the woods might suddenly dump buckets of ice and snow on us, I hadn't once thought to worry about North Carolina, where ice and snow before January are about as common as tornadoes in the Land of Oz. Blizzards can be raging everywhere else in the country, even in Key West, and the piedmont region of North Carolina will be hit with nothing but a disappointing and bitterly cold drizzly rain.

Not that year, though. While we remained perfectly sunny and precipitation free, Raleigh was hit with a paralyzing ice storm. My sister and nieces never made it.

Broken toys, broken dreams, broken relationships...No wonder Scrooge was so down on Christmas. What I do wonder, though, is why I still fall into the trap of hoping every Christmas that maybe that magic we're promised is there somewhere. As are the idealized parent, the idealized family, the idealized homes and marriages we've all come to want and expect but rarely get, Christmas is one of those myths of western culture. The question shouldn't be: do you believe in Santa Clause? The question should be: do you believe in Christmas?

Sometimes, despite all my dashed hopes, when I manage to wade through all the hideous advertising, all the holiday crowds and can convince myself to ignore all the greed and selfishness so blatantly on display, I'll see a single white candle shining in a window. Or I'll hear a clear, haunting soprano sing "Once in Royal David's City." Or, I'll watch a child joyfully unwrap a present I've carefully chosen, and even I have to answer, "Yes, I do believe in Christmas."


litlove said...

My worst Christmas ever was the one where I had viral pneumonia. I suddenly realised just how much I was expected to be responsible for everyone's cheerful mood in my extended family. One by one they paused on the threshold of my room (where I lay slowly dying) to say such useful things as 'You'd feel so much better if you got up and did something.' I could have killed them all. Ever since then, I've been slightly allergic to Christmas because I don't mind buying it, but I do resent having to provide the magic single-handedly.

mandarine said...

However broken Christmas may be, there will always be one thing everybody can still believe. I doubt anybody can fail to rejoice about that: days get longer after Christmas. And that's a given (except for those who live south of the equator).

Heather said...

I believe too. I think I believe simply because I is part of me.

Anonymous said...

Ever since I started looking at Christmas as more of a solsticy/harkening of spring celebration kind of thing I've enjoyed it much more, even though I do believe in Christmas at the end of it all, anyway. you've inspired one of my blog posts for this week! I wish S. and I could celebrate with you and Bob - they could discuss theology and we could discuss books over tea and wine and cake!

Emily Barton said...

Litlove, I can't imagine having extended family around while suffering from viral pneumonia. I hope they not only were aware how good you were not to kill them for their helpful remarks, but that they thanked you profusely.

Mandarine, ahh, yes: the lengthening of the days, a wonderful invention on nature's part, just as one is beginning to despair. I don't mind the cold, but I hate the dark.

Ms. Blossom, want to come help me decorate my tree?

Court, always happy to inspire others, and I would love to have you and S. here to celebrate Xmas with us and drink lots of tea and wine, and eat lots of cake!