Holidays? What holidays? Oh right, it’s Christmas. The proof is in the fragrance of pine emanating from the evergreens for sale on the sidewalk. Christmas day arrives on Sunday. How did that happen? I’m disconnected. I can barely recall that exciting childhood holiday when daily life dissolved into the magic and school let out and I counted off the days: it’s the eve of the eve of the eve of Christmas eve (!) My parents took us to the dress rehearsal for The Nutcracker Suite where my sisters and I would envy the showbiz kids who got to dance onstage because we wanted to be them, rather than ourselves. Hanging up stockings on hooks affixed to the windowsill in our 6th floor bedroom, I believed more fervently in Santa Claus than I did in God and I despised my older sister for thrusting the truth at me that Mom and Dad, not Santa, filled the stockings.
Now, decades later, with my husband very recently laid off from Citigroup where he worked for eleven years, his career there reduced to two packed boxes, and with us not having children around to infuse the season with magic, and my novel languishing with unresponsive publishers, the bedecked buildings around Wall Street and boughs of holly in the lobby of my apartment building, and the Union Square “Holiday Market” all strike me as so jarring, I’m taken aback, wondering how it happened that summer ended already. I’m so far removed I might as well be from another planet, studying the odd winter customs of New York humanoids in their tree-trimmed habitats, spending money they don’t have, eating and drinking things they might regret, pretending to be happy with caroling and mistletoe and all that. Grinchlike I’d report this inexplicable alien behavior back to the mothership.
Though I believe in neither Santa nor Jesus nor Yahweh nor God, I do surrender to the fact of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the hope in renewal that comes with it. To shed outdated habits (Good bye drinking in excess and negative thinking!) and embrace new (Hello reaffirmed commitment to meditation, yoga, writing my third novel and learning to cook!) is a good tradition. But this year, the season is filled with loss, all the ghosts of people I love who are gone or those still living but unable to partake. This year the season for me is tinged with fear over the dreadful economy and the depressing spectacle of politics at its worst; and this year I’m feeling older, struggling with the recognition that I’m not where I’d like to be in my life, that ever-elusive “place” of fulfillment, will I know it when I get there? And it saddens me to see another year pass so swiftly by. Why so fast? What happened to 2010? Where did the 90s go? And yet, renewal must be cultivated. Always renewal. Am I not lucky to be alive, working creatively, lucky to count so many incredibly admirable people as friends and beloveds, lucky to still have my job and to live in a world with so many great books to read, music to hear, theater and dance to watch, meals to eat and air to breathe? It’s way too easy to be dissatisfied. Perhaps the 2012 winter solstice will bring the cataclysmic, transformational occurrences predicted by apocalyptic new-agers. And if it doesn’t, maybe gratitude can become the default setting. Either way, very soon, the decorations will be put away, the holiday market dismantled, wreathes taken down, trees thrown out, ornaments packed up and my surroundings will no longer bewilder me so. I’m certainly looking forward to that. Of course by then I’ll be wondering, when hearts and cupids go up, what the hell happened to Christmas, and how did I miss it?