I’m a sucker for Christmas. It’s so big and huge, with so many layers of history and culture. It is certainly a giant commercial, the way cynics complain. It’s also certainly religious, the way another set of cynics complain. It also goes back long before it was called Christmas or associated with Christ. It’s tied to the changing of seasons, when darkness prevails, but light begins to return. It’s a strange, heartwarming, scary story, that we use as an obligation to visit family and friends. We have as many songs about it as we do about breaking up. We have characters for nearly every segment of person in society that connect to Christmas. Like I said, it is huge. But what draws me to it is the mystery involved, especially when you try to look at it all together.
I’ve felt pretty disconnected from the rest of the world this Christmas season. Not, that I’ve been antisocial or avoiding friends and family. This week, I tried to cram in a lot of work hours to set us for the time I’d be taking off for the holidays. When you wake up at 4am, then work 11 hours, it just puts you in this weird haze for the rest of the day. I’ve been on a different clock than everyone else. The times I’m awake, very few people are around. I know I’m not unique in this feeling, even if it’s not for the same reasons. It’s easy to get tugged into some sort of lifestyle that is important or feels important that takes away the real us from everyone else.
There’s been a lot of time spent with family this past week, the first half with my wife’s family, the second half with mine. There was an amazing reviving of puzzles in both houses this year. A puzzle was pulled out in hopes of drawing our 4 nieces and nephews (two sets of twins) into something other than a screen or a loud fight with each other. It ended up sucking everyone in the house in at some time or other. When we got to my parents’ house, Allyson and I mentioned how nice it was to work on a puzzle. I went up to take a shower, and when I returned, my family had gotten out a puzzle too. I realize how boring or dorky this seems, how this should be reserved for old women with lots of cats. But, there’s something about puzzle. You start out just watching the others, then you get closer. You find a piece, try it somewhere. It doesn’t work in the first place, and you become determined to get that piece in its proper place. Then you’re hooked. It’s a great activity to spend with people–you don’t have to talk, but it’s not so attention consuming (like a phone or tv) that you can’t have a perfectly good conversation.
I like these times that it’s comfortable to be with people you love, quiet, and not feel the need to constantly say something. I definitely value communication, but it’s also nice to just be with someone and share an experience. Allyson and I have been on the road a lot this week. After visiting my parents in West Tennessee, we traveled to Atlanta to help prepare for a wedding. Our good friends Justin and Amanda are getting married on New Years Day (you might remember my post about their engagement), and we have come to spend time with them. Allyson has been driving a lot lately because I have been so tired from early hours. On the trip to Atlanta, my clock had readjusted to normal settings, and I drove the whole way. Allyson and I didn’t talk much on this trip, but I regularly looked over at her, napping on one of my rolled up hoodies and thought about how good it felt to just be with her on a journey.
After feeding the ducks at my parents’ house one night, my dad asked me if I wanted to drive my great-grandfather’s old truck with him. My mom adores this truck–I think it kind of sums up a lot about her memories of my great-grandfather into one machine. It’s an old GMC, I think it’s a model from the 60s. They just got it running, and it’s a 3 speed with gear shift on the column. My dad and I went out on the backroads behind their house that I used to run when I was in high school. The light from the headlights and the sound of the steel rattling, the doors squeaking, the feel of the upholstery–we could have been driving down a country road in the 60s. The backroads were logged a few years ago, and it doesn’t look anything like I remember it. There used to be this wall of pine, sheltering your view to just the branches and gravel. Now it’s this wide-open expanse where you see hills and valleys, prairie grass and little saplings hoping to repopulate the hillside some day to probably be cut down again in 30 years. That sun sat over the horizon, just a little later than it did last night. We can hardly tell, but light is coming back.
I worked Christmas morning, so I got up at 4:15 like normal. I knew what I wanted to do to ring in this day that is so special to me. I sat in front of my nativity set and put on a song by Sufjan Stephens. It’s a strange, quirky song called, “Christmas Unicorn.” It’s every bit as weird as the title indicates, and it’s over 12 minutes long. The Christmas unicorn introduces itself and begins to explain what it is. It’s basically describing everything Christmas is good and bad–the commercial, the religious, etc etc. I get the feeling that Christmas Unicorn is supposed to represent how Christmas is a thing but it’s not a thing at the same time. How it is all these these aspects and not and how complicated that is when you want to believe in it, but you don’t always see it. The song goes on with a lot of sound effects, repeating a small set of lines over and over with the music changing. It’s sort of magical sounding at first, then more thoughtful and contemplating, then it switches and starts repeating the title lines of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” by the Joy Division. It begins to alternate the lines, “Love will tear us apart again,” with an earlier line from the song, “It’s alright. I love you.” The music builds and builds getting stronger, louder, with more sounds and instruments. The simple repetition of those words start to mean different things, because the music has changed under your nose and pulled out emotions you weren’t ready to let go of.
I’m sitting there listening as this song builds. I’m tired. I’m moving in a month. I’m seeing this whirlwind of family and friends, receiving far more gifts than I deserve. There is happiness and excitement and fear and questions and anticipation, and that song that I don’t quite understand but that something deep in my body is responding to. Then there in front of me is the baby Jesus with a handfull of loved ones and well wishers. It was all there in a way I can’t possibly describe. I just sat there with the music, the little figures, and tears dropping into my lap. In that moment everything swirled around together and I didn’t know how it all fit, but it washed over me and it was powerful, one of the most spiritual feelings I’ve had all year. Yeah, I’m a sucker for Christmas.