Last Christmas I was quarantined in my Portland apartment with the flu and a broken router. Just before nightfall (at 4:33pm) I drove to Safeway to buy milk for cereal, waited an hour in line for the only cashier, and returned home, at which point a friend texted me something along the lines of, “Be happy! It’s Christmas!” and I burst into tears.
I’ve never really liked Christmas.
Not for a long time at least. I have a memory of being eight and praying the day would never end. After that the holiday became an over-hyped expectation my childhood anxiety couldn’t enjoy, then a season of materialism to rail against, then a keep-the-CHRIST-in-Christmas theology to object to, and then a day to remind me of familial estrangement.
It’s now an hour into the holiday; I’ve been up writing reports and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer since returning from a candlelight service; and my cat is lounging beneath the 3-foot tree I bought a few weeks ago. It sounds tedious, but I feel happier about Christmas than I have since I was fat and hiding in the dusty loft of our family barn, clutching some new toy as if that would hold the hours still.
The service was at my church in Brooklyn and included bluegrass music, every Christmas hymn I love, and a liturgical reading of each Bible passage supposedly anticipating Jesus: the pretty ones about peace and the horrific story of Isaac and Abraham—the dialectical forces that stimulate my faith.
A wind is blowing against my hundred-year-old window, so cold it burned my ears in the 7-block walk between my subway station and door.
I bought the tree off a street corner near Central Park, covered it with a string of lights and ornaments from craft fairs and care packages from my grandmother.
Last year I was organized enough to write a holiday letter. I spent most of it relishing in adulthood, how I’d become a professional copywriter, survived appendicitis, made real friends 2,000 miles from everyone I knew, and started this blog. I was almost twenty-five for goodness sake. I thought I’d made it.
Tonight, my joy has another source. I’m still away from family, still believe America’s consumerism is summoning an environmental apocalypse (Sufjan Stevens just sang, “Lord, come with fire / Everyone’s wasting their time / Storing up treasure in vain” in a Christmas song as I typed this), still think this pagan holiday deserves to be celebrated, or not, however people see fit. For me, that means enjoying the quiet life I’ve started in New York, expressing gratitude for my many friends across the world, calling my family, and contemplating the incarnation of a god I rarely discuss but honestly do rely upon like breath. I don’t think I’ve made it, but I’m content regardless, no longer the anxious kid who couldn’t handle this holiday, and, thanks to a flu shot, in fine health.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance I love you, and I’m so glad you’re in my life.