The UPS man delivered The Last Package of Christmas today, and wished me a happy holiday as he left. So I did what all good Americans are supposed to do these days: I flew into a rage.
No, I didn’t. Anyone who visits here knows I’m part of the problem on this one, part of the liberal pinko conspiracy taking Christ out of Christmas and turning Jesus’ birthday party into an amorphous year-end observance of giving and spending, food and liquor. It’s true: I’m no longer Christian in any but a cultural sense, and the secular version works for me. Kate’s school party this year featured recreation stations devoted to the Big C, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. She came home with gelt and a black, red and green placemat, and this is fine with me. The world is different than when I was her age — this is to be expected — and if my public-school Christmas pageant was more religious than most you’d find in a parochial school, the time for that is past. It leads to crappier Christmas pageants, but it doesn’t feel like going backward.
I also smashed the shreds of my daughter’s Santa belief last year. It was time. This is what I said: “There is no man who lives at the North Pole and flies around the world with a reindeer sleigh. But there is a Santa. I am Santa, and this — this is important — you are Santa. Santa Claus is a symbol for the spirit of giving and care for others we all try to embody at this time of year.”
Maybe I didn’t say “embody.” But that was the gist.
She was disappointed. She knows the Reason for the Season, but this was a loss. Still, this year she took money to her school’s Secret Santa Shop and came home with something for everyone on her list, gifts that indicated she’d thought of those people, considered who they are and what they might want and need, and chose accordingly. Progress.
I said I was only culturally Christian, but if you’re into that sort of thing, it seems Amy gets it pretty close to exactly right here:
The really traditional Christian remembrance of the Nativity is not about sweetness. It is about awe, fear, and trembling, and it is shot through with hints of suffering to come.
Mary, with a scandalous pregnancy. Joseph, courageous enough to take her on despite it. A birth among farm animals. The threat of death, from the very start, necessitating flight. Mary, told by the prophet Simeon that because of her son, her soul will be pierced by a sword (Luke 2:35).
We view the elements of the story in a nostalgic haze @mdash; how sweet to be born with the goats. But is it? Is it sweet? Would you want to give birth among goats?
How charming that Mary and Joseph had to wander before and after the birth of the child. Charming until you remember the reasons why, the doors shut in the face of a heavily pregnant woman, the threat of death from a jealous king.
Look at it closely, with clear eyes. At every turn in this story of this baby there is threat and fear and powers circling, attempting to strike at the light.
This has always been the year-end holiday for me, religious or not, and maybe it’s because I tend toward gloom and pessimism — a single light in a sea of darkness. Concentrate on the light, whatever it is for you. It really is all we have.
Here’s one of my favorite Christmas stories: Years ago, in a newsroom far, far away, budget cuts were already taking their toll on the year-end party. The woman whose job it was to put the thing together was tasked with having a lunch and arranging entertainment with a criminally small budget. My first year at the paper, we’d had lunch catered by a semi-gourmet restaurant down the street. By just a few years later, the last year this woman did it, she opted for a mediocre caterer, who served chicken breasts that looked as though they were boiled in ditch water. The entertainment was a local elementary-school choir, brought in to perform musical selections from the school’s Christmas pageant.
There was no Noelling, nor Rudolph, nor even Jingle Bells. The music was entirely unfamiliar, something about a boy who doesn’t Believe, and at the end there was more, some oral interpretation by a young woman who was sweeping the state speech tournaments that year. Her showstopper was a dialogue between two women, both African American. (As was the girl. As was two-thirds of the choir. As was hardly anyone in the newsroom.) The younger one was a modern black woman, the older her grandmother, who persisted in believing most people were good and well-intended.
As the dialogue went on, it became clear the older woman was a fool, too ignorant to see evil and racism everywhere. Finally, the younger woman explodes: “But Grandma, they call us niggers behind our back!”
We looked at one another. If there was even a shred of hope that we could salvage some goodwill toward men from the wreckage of the day, it was gone now. The party was officially a failure. My friend David got up at the end, stretched and said, “Bad food, lousy music, tension between the races — ah, merry Christmas.”
The next year two of us wrestled the budget away from the woman whose heart was clearly no longer in it, and for about a few more years we spent it in a different way, in the bar next door. We had food and drinking in a cozy basement space, and drunken caroling in the men’s room — “three urinals flushing!” (swoosh!) — and it was fun again.
I’m not sure what the point of this story is, except that the holidays are a strange and funny and wonderful time of year, and also that if you have a choice in how to spend your money, it’s better to opt for Buffalo wings and cheese lumps and liquor after quitting time than bad chicken and racial accusations at midday. Make a note.
Posting will be intermittent, but not non-existent, for the next week or so. Back to full strength in 2006. Happy, happy holidays to one and all. I appreciate the gift you give me every day — your time and attention — and I thank you for it.
blue girl said on December 23, 2005 at 8:06 am
And thank you, Nance for your great writing. I enjoy and appreciate your writing every day.
You have a Happy Holiday also! And a Happy, Healthy 2006!
adrianne said on December 23, 2005 at 10:26 am
I had nearly eliminated that memory of the worst holiday party EVER until you brought it up! Nuthin’ says Christmas like racial tension.
I do remember fondly spending the $600 budget for well drinks and bad appetizers in the basement of that restaurant in the Fort. Party on!
Randy said on December 23, 2005 at 10:40 am
Thanks for your daily missives, Nancy. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family.
My worst office Christmas party happened a few days after my new boss told me there was “no fit” for me in his new regime. He was working on exiling me to some far-flung corner of the organization.
At the party, my wife and I sat with the office staff, including him, and we had basically put this blah news on the shelf for the night, determined to have a good time. I was seated next to the new boss’ wife. We exchanged small talk until she said:
“My husband has really enjoyed his new job so far, except he said he’s going to have to get rid of somebody who doesn’t fit in. He’ll be glad when that’s over.”
I smiled and said “that somebody would be me”.
“Oh,” she said, and carried on as if it was only a minor hiccup.
The new boss stayed a year and then continued his endless striving for the brass ring in a bigger organization and a bigger city.
I got re-assigned to a far better job and have never looked back. I think his wife is working in PR for a children’s hospital. I guess she hasn’t asked a parent if their kid is “the dying one or not” as of yet…
Nance said on December 23, 2005 at 12:26 pm
And to think Adrianne, that $600 would now be a generous budget for a Christmas party. I think the last allotment, before it disappeared entirely, was well under $100. When the party became a potluck, I declined to participate.
MichaelG said on December 23, 2005 at 12:29 pm
Merry Christmas, Nance; thanks for a great blog. And Merry Christmas to a great cast of commenters!
brian stouder said on December 23, 2005 at 4:35 pm
I hope y’all have a Merry Christmas, and/or a Happy Hanukkah, and/or a Really Rejoiceful Rammadan, and/or a Keen Kwanzaa, and/or a Happy New Year!
Dorothy said on December 23, 2005 at 5:05 pm
I send good wishes out to all of you, particularly to Nancy and her family, and want to say I love sharing this space with all of you. Thanks for all the interesting and stimulating words throughout the year. Cheers!
Mindy said on December 23, 2005 at 5:43 pm
Wishing everyone here the Happiest of Everything All of the Time. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year. Enjoy. And don’t worry about the calories.
Thanks, Nance, for being a day brightener. I’ll be emptying my champagne glass to your health when it’s filled.
Jeff said on December 23, 2005 at 6:32 pm
Huzzahs for the Holiday Season, and three cheers for our virtual host (my, that sounds ambiguous, doesn’t it?) who keeps us all (whoever we all are, anyhow) thinking.
If you are so inclined, may your Christmas be lit with candlelight wonder, and/or a healthy dose of Bushmills before trying to figure out how to assemble it all tomorrow night; say a prayer for clergy with kids who have services past midnight, a small but necessary service the next morning, and much to puzzle out of mistranslated Chinese and instructions drawn by folks who got to the Bushmills beforehand . . . which is why i’m thinking a dosage of the creature might make more sense of them.
Et in terra pax,
Danny said on December 24, 2005 at 8:42 am
Warmest, yet suitably ambiguous, wishes and greetings to all, and especially you and yours, Nance. We’ve been out of reach, visiting relatives, for a week already, but I wanted to catch up a little on email and such today.
Man, what a hilarious recap of a disasterous holiday party. My wife’s company is so different from mine. My department, we had a small lunch at an ok restaurant. Robin’s department had a $45K budget for 300 people complete with raffle prizes including $2K airline travel vouchers good anytime, anywhere. Yikes. Another department at her company had a $1M budget for a party held in La Jolla. I guess I am in the wrong business.
But remember all, if the season starts to get you down, cruise to the mall and endeavor to fancy park with your pinkies held high and proud. Brian will be happy.
Now back to feats of strength and airing of grievances.
God, bless, Danny
Mike said on December 24, 2005 at 11:46 am
Thanks for a another year of great bloggage Nanc.
I’m retired so spared the anguish of office parties. Instead, I party at Christmas with friends.
Christmas Eve my kids (grown up now) come over to see what Santa left in our stockings (he magically arrives at 7pm to fill them) and then we’ll drink a lot of Moose Milk (recipe on my blog) and watch movies and bond.
Christmas Day we’re all at their mother’s for dinner – my daughter tries to help, her grandma criticizes her anyways, my son naps, and my ex frets. I open the wine. Traditions.
John (and Sam) said on December 24, 2005 at 5:03 pm
Merry holidayosity, Nance. You make our day(s).