Christmas time is concentrated human emotion. Misery, happy, self-questioning, glory and, dare we mention… RELATIVES? (Insert shock, happy and horror emojis here.) Plus, self-discovery: you find out things about yourself you didn’t know, too often not a good thing, but can lead to a better life.
I was at Damian LeQuay’s house my second college Christmas. I couldn’t go home, in part because how things had turned sour between me, a former girlfriend and my father. Not to mention me, myself and I.
Unfortunately, the Christmas spent with the generous LeQuays was not my best. I felt lost, homeless and helpless, despite the LeQuay family’s best efforts.
Thanks to this lovely woman, Millie, I got through that. How did you put up with me for closing in on 50 years? After that, Christmas time got better. The Jennys knew how to celebrate. But many years after, for a while, I grew sour on Christmas because it seemed Christmas time had become a game of, “How much of a culture war can we create?” I don’t remember Christmas being political before that. Anything but. I spent one Christmas celebrating Hanukkah with the Markowitz family. We had houses with no lights, and non-believers: that was OK. Every year we would visit with one of those neighbors who was a good friend of my father. No pokes or jabs aimed at neighborly non-believers. I remember asking my father and mother about their lack of lights and the response was a simple, “They don’t believe and that’s OK,” from my father.
I think the lights were the best, followed by singing in church, sometimes playing Paul Stookey songs Christmas Dinner or Hymn on my guitar for the congregation. Amazing because I was no fan of church back then, but they did the Christian version of the celebration quite well. Of course, then there were the gifts. I would agree that the 50’s and 60’s were naive in this regard: while the slums had families forced up the hill to live with family due to urban renewal, in the better parts of town it was golden: gifts flourishing under suburban trees. Few lights up that hill, and that had nothing to do with lack of belief. Societal enforced poverty at its “finest.”
It’s a regrettable fact that because the better off’s bounty is plentiful, circumstances backed up by the state offered nothing to singular lumps of coal to others. We lived bigger lives, and some of us were humbugging the worse off who had had their homes stolen via urban renewal.
But living in the bounty on Tallman Avenue, we knew little of crowded families up the hill from where their homes once were. Now a big hole. But in the end life never is perfectly kind for any of us. We tend to forget that once we get older. We tend to glorify the past, and the problems get glossed over with age. Even our own.
I knew something was amiss. I wasn’t told for most of my years here as a kid Mom was dying. Took seven years, and I had to pester my father with, “Something is really wrong with her,” before I found out. My middle brother and I have always gone between tolerance, to “OK,” to outright disdain. Once I slid into a snowbank and hit something hard. I woke up very warm, yelled out, but no one heard me. I finally dug myself out and it was dark. He had gone home and shrugged when I asked why he didn’t check on me.
Not atypical of our relationship.
Meanwhile I wanted to be living anywhere but where we were living. Of course, there had been a girl involved in that situation. Let’s just say those who hold torches tend to burn themselves over and over again, and such fare can make Christmas joy seem murky.
Still, compared to a horrific Christmas in 73 it was glorious, or my favorite Christmases in the Adirondacks. After all that I spent most of my Christmases in New Hartford, NY with Millie and her family, then just the two of us wherever we lived. With no kids we eventually left the tree, the decorations and even gifts behind. Having moved back home, living in the Adirondacks, we now have a “tree.” Two, actually, and I made them both. One has a frame with pine limbs on it, the other just pine limbs tied together in a tree-like shape.
Somewhere in the not-so-distant past I heard about the “War on Christmas.” From the very first echo I thought it nonsense. No one I know of is offended by “Merry Christmas,” but I sure saw and heard a few people offended by “Happy Holidays” and such. I’m sure some schools were trying to be more open, respectful of differences, different traditions.
We can’t have THAT, can we? (Sigh.)
Culture wars and the politics of grievance seem more about insisting it’s the other guy or gal demanding we don’t say or do something, while demanding everyone say or do ONLY what those with the grievance insist on. No matter who the offenders are. My more recent discovery in the past 20 years is the politics of hate and self-loathing can ruin a season so capable of bringing people together. With the attitude of, “Tiny Tim be damned.”
I wish you, and yours, Merry Christmas, Seasons Greeting, a Crazily Cheerful Kwanza, a Happy Hannukah, Hanuka, Chaunaka: you choose the spelling you like the most. Whatever sane celebration you choose to celebrate I welcome your celebration and would love to learn more about that tradition.
Happy Holidays to you and yours.
“Inspection” is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 50 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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