Christmas

The Detritus of Christmas Passed

I’ve always found it ironic that the best time of year is followed by the worst time of year. My drive to work reinforced my belief. On the way I passed numerous Christmas Trees thrown out at various curbs. Several inflatable Santa Clauses lay in flat heaps on people’s front lawns. Instead of the radio greeting me with cherry, upbeat Holiday tunes, I listened to the same banal songs that saturated the airways prior to Thanksgiving.

My drive home wasn’t much better. A cold, blustery wind made me crank my heater for the first time this season. Instead of an array of Christmas lights, a somber twilight illuminated my way home. Yes, Christmas 2015 is formally over.

Ever since my childhood, I always loathed the end of the Holiday Season. In my youth, I figured that came from having to return to school. The carefree days of sleeping late and playing with the toys Santa brought me had come to an end. The time to get back to work had come. Now I wonder if that was the real reason.

As I got older I realized that Christmas is the most heavily advertised event on the planet. I remember back in the 1990s while shopping for my parents’ anniversary, I noticed Christmas displays in the mall. Since my Mom and Dad were married on October 10th, I couldn’t believe it. How could a store be getting ready for the Holidays prior to Thanksgiving?

Flash forward twenty some years. Now stores get ready for the Holidays around Labor Day. I watched television commercials targeting Christmas shoppers before Football season began this year.

While growing up in the 1970s I remember one radio station would play nothing but Christmas music from December 24th through January 1st. Now, several play nothing but Holiday music from the Monday before Thanksgiving until Christmas Day! That’s a solid month!

And then on December 26th, it’s all over. All the Christmas music disappears from the airways. Stores begin removing their displays. I remember a few years ago while at a café on New Year’s Day, I watched as the staff took down the Holiday decorations and put away the Christmas Tree. I felt like a soldier watching Old Glory descend the flagpole.

It’s not that I’m depressed Christmas is over; it’s that I feel like I’ve entered another world. For several months, everything one sees reminds one that Christmas is coming. In the span of a few days, all of that disappears. I remember a March visit to the café I mentioned earlier. Some of the baristas started singing:

           Oh, by gosh, by golly

            It’s time for mistletoe and holly.

            They laughed saying how weird it was not to hear that song every few minutes.

I also miss all the fun stuff leading up to the Christmas Season. For those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, the heat and humidity leading up to Labor Day gives way to cool autumn days. After that a lot of fun Halloween activities take place. They’re followed by Thanksgiving. All this time, signs of Christmas become apparent, leading up to the big day itself.

Right now, we’re looking at three months of lousy weather. I’ve heard some refer to this period in the Northeastern U. S. as “the Dark Ages.” We’ve got bitter, frigid cold with the ever present possibility of snow and ice. It’s ironic that seasonal tunes like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “It’s a Marshmallow World in the Winter” no longer come over the airwaves.

It may not seem like it now, but the detritus of Christmas 2015 will give way to spring’s blooming flowers. Then again, every year the Season seems to start earlier and earlier. Who knows? The way things are going, 2016’s Black Friday deals may be in full swing before Easter.

 

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The Dog Days of Christmas

There’s nothing quite like the Yuletide season. It features great food, family and fun. Since the first often accompanies the other two, I do my best to keep in shape during the Holiday Season. When you think about it, what better time to go jogging in the evening? Aside from burning off those (many) excess calories, it gives a person the opportunity to take in the Holiday atmosphere. Since it gets dark early this time of year, one can experience the full effect of the Christmas lights.

That’s what I did this past weekend. While frost bite becomes a major concern for joggers in the waning days of autumn, this time I faced a more familiar adversary from the summer: dehydration. You read that right: dehydration. Keep in mind I live in the Philadelphia area: not in Australia. A balmy haze settled over town last week. The dew point reached August-like proportions. Upon returning home, the profuse sweat made me look like I’d just gotten out of the shower. Santa wouldn’t need his thick red and white suit this year…or would he?

Several days later the temperature dipped into the upper fifties. It rained. And rained. And then it rained some more. By the weekend, the temperature plummeted into the more seasonal upper-thirties. A lot of people would get sick in this weather. I’m sure lucky I run and keep in shape so I don’t come down with anything for the Holidays, right? Not so.

They call New Jersey “the Garden State” for a reason. I’ve battled allergies my entire life. That’s another reason I like to run. It helps to break-up my congestion. It also acclimatizes me to the weather. Wild temperature swings aggravate my allergies more than anything else. When precipitation is involved, they get even worse. Most times, I handle these fluctuations without any problems. The fifty degree changes in the course of a day or two, I can’t. Not for the first time this season, I found myself visiting my neighborhood urgent care center for sinusitis.

Sudden bursts of unseasonal warm weather confuse my sinuses. They think it’s the height of August ragweed season. The back of my throat feels like a handful of newly mown grass clumped there. My voice has been so raspy from coughing that it sounds like a cross between Bruce Springsteen’s and Tom Waits’. I’ve had several sneezing fits that lasted for minutes. This can be troublesome especially while eating. (I guess that explains why I’ve been dining alone these past few days.)

I know I shouldn’t complain. There are far worse sinus related issues one could have. My great-grandmother passed away from carcinoma of the sinuses. (Even with this family history and my own allergy issues, I still smoked like an idiot in my youth.) Besides, thanks to the immediate access to medical attention the urgent care center provides, I’ve been able to do most of my regular routine. Without their assistance, I would’ve been confined to bed for days.

As I’m writing this, it’s 39 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I checked the latest weather forecast. We’re getting more rain next week. On Christmas Eve the temperature will rise into the mid-seventies. Christmas Day it’s going to “cool off” to a more modest 60 degrees. This tells me two things. 1) I’ll probably be having Christmas Dinner with the folks at the urgent care center. 2) For those wondering what to get me: tissues and decongestants would be good choices.

While I prefer warmer weather, I’m actually looking forward to winter. I’m not excited about another muggy warm spell. I’ve had enough of the Dog Days of Christmas.

 

Holiday Wishes from Kevin Stephany

This year I’m very grateful to all the people who took the time to read my blog. I’d especially like to thank my writing partner for talking me into doing one. I felt very leery about the project at first. I always worried that I’d put something in writing that would offend someone or get me into trouble.

With that acknowledgement, I feel obligated to wish all my friends in the blogosphere a Happy Holiday Season. In the interest of not upsetting anybody or causing anyone to feel slighted, I shall try to be as thorough as possible.

To my Christian friends: I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

To my Christian friends who experience a tinge of guilt while celebrating a Christian holiday among people who don’t practice the faith: Happy Holidays.

To my Jewish friends: I wish you a Happy Hanukkah.

To my friends in the Islamic community: I am a bit late, so allow me to be the first to wish you a solemn and dignified Ramadan for next year.

Having grown up in the Western world, those are the faiths I’m most familiar with. Now it gets a little tougher.

To my agnostic friends: I don’t know whether or not I should wish you anything. I don’t know if it matters to you, for that matter.

To my atheistic friends: I don’t believe I should wish you anything.

To my friends who worship the dark lord Lucifer: I wish you would burn in Hell; and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

To my hedonistic friends: every day is your Christmas. I can’t think of anything I could possibly say to you that would make your day any better.

To my female friends in the hedonistic community: if you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution I wish you would resolve to return my calls.

To my snake handling friends: Sssssssssss. Sssssssssssss.

To my narcissistic friends: I wish you the greatest of happiness. I also wish you wouldn’t block my view of the mirror.

To my friends who worship reason and logic: I wish you many hours of peace in your lonely solitude.

To my friends who worship the “almighty dollar”: I wish you would realize it’s time to “convert” to the Euro.

And to anyone else I left off this list: have a nice day.

Christmas Memories

My most poignant Christmas memory took place while visiting my mother’s grave. Even I’m surprised to see myself write that. After all, we live in an era where Christmas brings out the twin vices of materialism and selfishness in many people. Who doesn’t vividly recall the childhood thrill of opening presents under the blazing lights of a Christmas tree? Such times comprise the pantheon of my happiest memories.

Mom passed away in the fall of 2010 following a brief, but agonizing battle with cancer. Even though I understood the magnitude of her illness, her passing still came as a surprise. Nothing prepared me for losing someone that close; even when I knew it inevitable.

Christmas morning that year was eerie. For the first Christmas ever, the scent of Mom’s bacon and eggs didn’t fill the house. I found it harder to cope with not giving her presents. I’m terrible when it comes to shopping for women, which may explain why I’m still single. At any rate, no matter what I got, Mom would always gush like she’d been hoping for my present her entire life. I already missed experiencing her doing this. In fact, I still had the gift I bought her for her 46th anniversary. (I should note that she passed away on that day.)

I walked down the same steps I had as a child. During Christmases past, I’d race down them past Mom and Dad to my new toys. This year, instead of yelling for Dad to get up so he could film me opening my presents, I went downstairs and breakfasted alone. I wanted to let Dad sleep in. Christmas is tough enough for him. His father passed away on Christmas Eve of 2003.

My gaze drifted among a series of old family photos laid out on the dining room table. One included my Mom, Grandmother and Great-Grandmother. It’s a shame it takes such a personal tragedy to make someone appreciate the real meaning of the holidays. Without family, there’s not much of a reason to have them.

Both my mom and grandmother are buried at the same cemetery. Since it was early on Christmas morning, I thought it would be a nice gesture to “visit” them, if you will. I put on a warm coat and jumped in the car.

While driving past a series of stores along the highway I chuckled at the irony. It’s impossible to find a parking space during any of the days leading up to Christmas. Everybody runs out to take advantage of those last minute deals they run close to the holiday. It’s like nothing in life matters, but shopping. On Christmas Day, all of them are closed; the parking lots completely empty. That always seemed strange to me.

The hypocrisy in thinking that way hit me like a blast of cool winter air. As a kid, I wouldn’t leave the living room for a week after Christmas. My new toys were my universe. Nothing else existed outside of my circumscribed personal play pen. While reflecting on my new life situation, I recognized that I could just as selfish as anyone else at times. I guess that’s the problem with becoming a mature adult: you start thinking like one.

While ruminating on all the self-centeredness that permeates the “season of giving” I pulled into the cemetery. A “Christmas miracle” of sorts greeted me. The scene reminded me a bit of the store parking lots during the lead-up to Christmas Day. I don’t recollect the exact number, but numerous people chose to spend their Christmas morning the same way I had. It touched me to see a man, his wife, their three kids AND FAMILY DOG paying their respects. In addition to the holiday, the temperature hovered in the low 30’s (Fahrenheit, of course). It still wasn’t 9:00 AM, yet, either.

This experience made me feel even worse about my childhood selfishness. Still, it enhanced my faith in humanity. Witnessing so many people focused on something larger than they was a gift worthy of Good Ol’ St. Nick.