It’s five days until Christmas, and I have done no shopping and minimal decorating. No cookies have been baked (at least not by me), though I have been singing that lovely medieval carol, “O Come O Come, Emmanuel,” under my breath for weeks now, despite the fact that its title sounds pornographic and it’s first line “O Come O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel” appears to be an incitement to a religious crusade, which involves heads on pikes and the streets running with blood.
Merry Christmas to you too.
Don’t think I’m indulging in a war on Christmas. I love Christmas. I love the lights, I love the trees, I love the stockings, I love the ornaments and the wreaths. I can take or leave Santa at this point, but I love the color red. (When else can you wear a red coat and not feel conspicuous?) I love giving gifts (almost as much as I love getting them). I love cakes baked into the shape of yule logs. I love cookies in the shape of reindeer. I even love fruitcake. (Not so fond of the army of blow-up snowmen and Santas that decorate so many lawns, but that’s a small quibble.)
In my 58 years on the planet, I have rarely had a case of the Christmas blues — except for the year we decided to forgo presents (What the hell! Whose idea was that?!) — but this year is different.
Here’s the problem: for most of my life, our family Christmas has revolved around my parents and my two children. My parents, alas, are no longer “willing with us,” as Dylan Thomas wrote of the dead in “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” My mother died last year at 101. I spent much of last Christmas sitting at her bedside, while she conversed with members of the choir invisible.
That leaves my children, Miranda and Jamie, who at 22 and 25 are no longer children and who have decamped permanently to Philadelphia, spending their first Christmas away from home (probably to escape my yearly sotto voce singing of “O Come Emmanuel”).
There is my husband, Chris, of course, but his Christmas role model is Ebenezer Scrooge — before his fateful meeting with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.
But even Chris is being sympathetic this year — he’s probably remembering my reaction to the dreaded Christmas without presents. I woke at up 4 a.m. and burst into tears, bitterly regretting that I had ever agreed to such a crazy idea. I got up, drove to an all-night Safeway, bought strange little presents for all of us, came home and wrapped them, decorated the house, made Christmas breakfast as usual, just in time for my startled adult children (who were OK with the idea of a Christmas with no presents) to wander into my pop-up Christmas wonderland. That was a fun Christmas.
Still, Chris can see I’m struggling. When I suggested that we pop a couple of Seroquel and simply sleep through Christmas Day, he tactfully demurred, suggesting instead “Why don’t we go out to a nice restaurant for Christmas dinner.”
He even deigned to suggest a Christmas present for himself — an oxford cloth shirt. (Normally, he responds “Nothing!” to any inquiry about what he might want for Christmas. Usually, I get him black socks, which is kind of the same thing.)
He thinks wrapping a present will cheer me up. It might. Momentarily.
But it won’t solve my real dilemma: I have spent a lifetime making Christmas for the people that I love, and now most of those people are no longer here. I am trying to imagine a new kind of Christmas for us — one without the bustle and the chatter and the food and the presents — without the fun in other words. And frankly, my imagination is failing me.
I posted my plight on Nextdoor, looking for suggestions. One respondent said simply, “Get a dog.” (No can do: husband allergic.) Paula Paige from Sebastopol responded kindly, “Thankfully, my son lives nearby now, but that has not always been the case – so I got a puppy … and I volunteered, helping others.”
I’ve thought of that, of course. My husband and I have contemplated volunteering at the Christmas dinner at the Sebastopol Community Church or, if we were really committed, the Christmas dinner served by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at the Vets Hall in Guerneville.
Maybe volunteering will cheer me up. Maybe my volunteering will cheer somebody else up. That’s how it works in Hallmark movies, and I’ve heard from reliable sources that that’s how it works in real life as well — probably the first time those two have ever corresponded.
Anyway, volunteer or not, I’ve decided to go to both these events at least to take photos and write up a quick story about them.
My husband was appalled. “You’re going to work,” he said. “On Christmas Day.”
And I had to admit that, yes, that was my plan. Work is my passion and my solace, and this Christmas, I see no reason not to work.
The truth is I want my kids home for Christmas, I want my parents not to be dead, but neither of those are going to happen.
So this season, like the song says, I’m mourning in lonely exile here. Maybe I’ll hook up with some other Christmas orphans. Maybe I’ll throw together a last-minute friends’ Christmas. Or maybe what I’ll do on Christmas morning is simply sing the words of my favorite carol aloud into the silence:
“O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”