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The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse: Covid Edition #51 – “Here Comes Santa With All Those Damned Claws”

Written on 11/25/2000

I grew up in a culturally Jewish home, but we were not religious. We sang some prayers (sort of—nobody knew more than a line or two) for Chanukah and lit candles in a menorah, but gifts were reserved for our secular Christmas. The closest thing we had to faith was leaving cookies out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Christmas really was magical, though.

You see, most of the time, my parents were busy people and ran an angry and distracted household. Daddy yelled, Mommy smiled through it, and babbled about what a loving home we had. It was a lie and I knew it. Beneath the surface, our household was a cesspool of bitterness, but I was the only one that seemed to smell the stench.

But somehow they absorbed a taste for Christmas. When December rolled around each year, the miasma of misery seemed to lift and the joy of parenting blossomed forth. There were shopping trips, and secrets, and an increase in allowances so we could buy gifts for one another. Mysterious packages were hidden in closets. In mid December, we’d put up a Christmas tree and spend a thrilling evening hanging the decorations which always, of course, excited the pets (a collie named Biscuit and a feisty orange Tabby named Muffin, who eventually gave way to a miniature poodle named Pepper and the gentle grey Princess). My father’s Jewish mother didn’t pay much attention to December’s brouhaha, but my mother’s more secular parents were in all the way, dressing up and showing up with candy and baubles. Carols played on the record player in the evenings and we sang along. My father smiled often, the rarest of wonders. A highlight was watching “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”—one of the few Christmas traditions I continue to honor.

Every year, our home transitioned reliably from Scroogeville to Cratchit Town and this regular December miracle gave me the hope that let me live through the inevitable dry months that came after.

Until 1967.

As the Vietnam war was escalating, activists promoted a boycott of Christmas. Our family had been drawn into the activism of the time as well —we had moved from suburban Boston to rural Mississippi, where my physician father was running a poverty health clinic.  Hearing about the boycott, and wanting to do our part to demonstrate our willingness and nobility, my siblings and I announced to our parents that we were willing to cancel Christmas that year.

In a spectacular demonstration of bad parenting, they agreed, without discussion. They were, in fact, celebratory: Mom delighted at our maturity and wonderful demonstrations of character, Dad was obviously relieved. There was no suggestion that we might want to reconsider. Such a thought was unimaginable—if this made us wonderful and full of great character and worthy of love, well, what would it make us of we reneged?

That was the year with no tree, no Santa Claus, no cookies and milk, no carols, no Grandma and Grandpa, no hidden packages, no Cratchit Town.

On the morning of December 25th, we were given small packages at breakfast which my parents had purchased from a drugstore on Christmas Eve, when they realized, too late, how truly unhappy we were. We showed as much gratitude as we could muster.

Since then, my feelings about holidays—mainly Thanksgiving and Christmas—have been ambivalent. As a child, they were oases in a desert of disappointment, and I held them dear. As an adult, I vacillate between feeling great excitement and enthusiasm, inspired by happy memories, and bitterness and disappointment at the ways the holidays are used to hide shadows that ought to be dealt with.

In our current season of abnormality and angst, I am lost in a fog of futility: gift buying, meal planning, family, the frou-frou of the season are seen “through a glass darkly” (that really is the most apt phrase).

I’m stressed, my doctor has just diagnosed tachychardia (a probably stress-related abnormally fast heartbeat), I’m scared, I’m lonely, I’m done in.

For the holidays this year,  pretense is unavailable as a tool to light up the shadows. I’m sitting in the dark.

And here’s the funny thing: it’s not so bad. I meditate. I think of you, readers, and all my friends. I work on forgiving my family. I read good books. I write. I take things as they really are and don’t try to cover anything up. It’s not worth the bother.

And to my surprise, I am grateful to be alive. And I’m grateful you’re alive. And I’m grateful that adults are returning to Washington. And maybe what we have now is a reboot. And maybe, after all these years since childhood, I can have Christmas again just for the fun of it.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

So here they come: Happy Holidays everybody! As I often say these days: why not?

After Thanksgiving, I think I’ll pull out the Santa hat. Ho! Ho! Ho!