When I was a kid, Christmas Day was mostly a relief after the ordeal of Christmas Eve. I was so excited to see my presents the next morning, but terrified that I hadn't been good enough to deserve any that I would end up throwing up out of anxiety by early evening.
As I grew older, I didn't get as excited about Christmas, possibly in an effort to save my stomach lining. But I would still get flashes of Christmas Spirit, even when I was a teenaged punk rocker and opposed to everything that normal people might like or take comfort in.
Christmas Eve 1989 was cold. Around midnight I was with my friends Curt and Jennifer at her mom's house. I remember driving down Riverside Avenue earlier to pick up Curt and getting caught in a slow-moving trail of cars looking at luminaria and Christmas lights. I was 19 at the time, so this boring old person wagon train was a personal affront to my mission that night, which was to speed as fast as possible down Riverside's twists and turns to pick up my friend. Now, of course, I'll watch the hell out of some luminaria and Christmas lights.
Curt and Jennifer were both home on Christmas break. I was still in Bradenton, making my way through community college. It was a strange time. My friends had moved away and I was working part time and making awesome grades, the first time since about elementary school, probably because I was actually trying for once. But I felt like my friends were out there growing and experiencing stuff while I was spinning my wheels back in my home town.
In those primitive days, contact was pretty much limited to letters, occasional phone calls, and the reliable passenger pigeon, so the few times a year we could get together meant a lot. They would tell me about Gainesville and Tallahassee and how I needed to get up there, fast. That's what we ended up talking about that night. I remember Jennifer had given me a copy of the No Idea zine, with the Mutley Chix/Crimprshine split 7", and like all punk rockers at the time, we were talking about Fugazi.* Jennifer had an advance copy of what would be "Repeater" and we played it over and over again.
"There's a whole world out there where people are creating and doing stuff," I thought. "And I've got to be a part of it."
But I was also genuinely happy to be with my friends. A little later I was driving home through the deserted streets after dropping Curt off. I was thinking how grateful I was to have such good friends and was pondering the future and sort of wondering what and where my place was.
My thoughts were interrupted by waves of pollen from the palm trees falling on my windshield. "Stupid pollen," I thought. "I'm probably going to be all stopped up tomorrow."
Wait a minute, that wasn't pollen at all. It was...it was snow!
I hadn't seen snow in years, not since I was a kid in Mississippi. And it was snowing on Christmas Eve! I stopped the car and let the snow (really little more than frozen rain) fall on my face and hands.
Driving the rest of the way home, I finally got it. The Christmas spirit. Like the best Christmas songs and entertainment, I was feeling happy and excited, but just a little melancholy and thankful at the same time. I hadn't felt that way in a while.
And then I realized why I hadn't really felt Christmasy the last few years. I was waiting for that pure rush of excitement I got opening presents as a kid. But adult Christmas wasn't just about excitement and happiness, it was the whole mixture, with a little bit of sadness and hope and thankfulness.
Christmas is Charlie Brown loving a crappy
Christmas tree. It's Jimmy Stewart hugging the shit out of his family.
It's the insanely sad lyrics to "Have Yourself A Merry Little
Christmas" or Shane McGowan slurring, "I could have been someone."
It's Scrooge getting the miserliness scared out of him.
it's also Dean Martin slurring though "Silver Bells" and dogs at a bandstand happily barking
their way through "Jingle Bells," but that's a whole other story.
In the following years, there would always be a time, sometimes only a brief moment when I could catch that feeling again. Joy, contentment, chemical compounds rushing out to fight seasonal depression, who knows what it actually was. But each year there would come a time when I'd be alone, feeling an incredible mix of contentment and happiness, mixed with just a tinge of sadness to make it all the more sweet.
Whatever your holiday traditions are, I hope you get to experience some of that, at least for a little while this year.
* In the late '80s/early '90s, every conversation between punk rockers would eventually come around to Ian MacKaye and/or GG Allin.