Lurching towards Christmas, I slowly fill with queasy dread. This is strictly an adult thing. As a child, I was crackpot for Christmas, weren’t we all. I even tolerated the Christmas Eve Mass jive to keep in the spirit of all things magical, moral and Mattel. It was ecstatic, intoxicating. My eyes were pinwheels. A messiah in the manger? I mused. More like Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots and a Huffy bike!
But now, not so much. It’s fine — my Grinchy shades of green flash only occasionally (like when a relative tried to make us all play kazoos on Christmas morning) — yet any magic is vanishingly rare. I have no kids (maybe there is a wish-making Santa Claus), but I have nephews I’ve watched for years do the woo-hoo reindeer dance, ripping open presents faster and faster, barely registering what the prior package was, just go go go.
That’s how we were as kids, too, of course. It’s like a hot dog eating contest — inhale as much as you can as fast as you can, then raise a fist in triumph. Burp.
Still, as a wee one, I was transfixed by the legend, the myth, the psychotic balderdash of jolly St. Nick and his reindeer, an octet of forest dwellers that inevitably released droppings over the entire planet as they flew from continent to continent (er, rather incontinent). I bought it hook, line and sucker.
When I was about seven I swore I spotted Santa in his sled, pulled by a team of reindeer. The vision was on a hilltop, thrillingly close to our house. I got piss-pants excited and my parents wisely scooted me off to bed so as not to scare Santa away — and so as not to vaporize the obvious mirage I was experiencing. (No, wait! I saw him. I did! To this day I will never know … )
I wish Santa was real. Without the tubby, ruddy one, it isn’t the same. And so the dread sets in. The kids are much older and they chuckle off memories of believing. The human circle near the fireplace is the same as it has been for a lifetime, but it’s smaller. We’ve lost key faces over the years. Presents are presented and unwrapped, but the frenzy is gone. Dull-eyed expectation eclipses the tinsel’s glittery glow.
About now I’m supposed to sum up with a heartwarming message, gushing how splendorous Christmas remains, how un-mechanical it feels, how suffused with blinding joy and world peace it is. You know I can’t do that. I don’t even think it’s legal.
Christmas is good. At some point, after the little ones’ heads are done exploding in overwhelming rapture, you might have to lower your expectations. Santa still hovers, belly jiggling, though he’s probably playing a different tune. Ho-ho-hum, he mutters.