Finding Something That’s Yours

Downtown Sayville at Christmas. Painting by Peter Tartaglia. You can view this and other paintings at his website.

I was scrolling Facebook this week and in a group about my hometown, someone posted this gorgeous painting of Main Street. I would have gotten homesick if not for the accompanying post that bemoaned how the older she gets, “the spirit ang magic [of Christmas] grows smaller.” She then went on to complain in the way older people tend to do, which is that she has all of these memories of what downtown used to look like and what Christmas used to be and feel like. It’s a lament that we have all heard (and if you’re at a certain age probably have heard from your own mouth) at least a few times before.

It can be a valid one as well, especially when you grow up in the middle class suburban bubble. You might not have anything to worry about as a child or teenager–and if your parents are worried about something, they may be doing a pretty good job of hiding it–but now that you’re actually responsible for your own life, those obligations get pushed to the forefront and you feel like the “magic” is gone because every second oft he day is not filled with childhood wonder. Instead, it’s crying about “the greed of corporate America having to start selling before Halloween” without the self-awareness that while Christmas may not have superseded Halloween when you were a kid, it was always there. Thing is, you didn’t notice it because you were a kid who wanted presents. Face it, we were raised in capitalism, and it’s only when you grow up that you notice it. That doesn’t “take away” any magic; instead it clouds what is actually there and the lament of there not being enough wonder becomes the obstacle to creating it.

As I read that Facebook complaint with its ghost of Christmas past, whining about Christmas present, and lack of hope or vision for Christmas future, I started picturing elements of my own Christmases. I’d actually forgotten some details of what Christmas looked like in my hometown when I was very young, so it was nice to be reminded of lights strung across main street and holiday train displays in the local hobby shop. This led me to remembering my late teens and early twenties, a time when I wasn’t around my hometown very much because I was either living in a dorm room in Baltimore or an apartment in Arlington. Going home for Christmas was something I did … well, out of obligation more than anything, really. I suppose there were years where I wanted to go home and was looking forward to seeing my relatives, but there were also years where I truly felt like I was doing it because I had to. This was not borne out of anything except my own issues with anxiety and the social awkwardness that has often accompanied it. Those years, all I wanted was to feel like I wasn’t being dragged from one place or gathering to another. You want to talk about feeling like Christmas magic is going away, check out the petulant look on my face through years of being forced to take group pictures. I am sure that the author of that Facebook post loves the idea of everyone being around and being able to create all of the moments that we expect from Christmas. I tire from having to be “on” for my relatives.

Funny enough, though, I would rediscover a love for Christmas–specifically, Christmas Eve–at another family’s Christmas party. My friend had a tradition of inviting people to her house on Christmas Eve for appetizers and drinks (well, soda–we were underage and her parents were responsible adults). I would hang out until it was time to go to church, and those few hours I had with my friends were always some of my favorite of the season. These were people I’ve known since the seventh grade and being there was always the most relaxed I felt in a holiday setting. Nobody was asking me to perform in some way, giving my grief for wanting to chill for a few minutes, or demanding that umpteenth group picture. Here, I was for lack of a better word, myself … and dare I say it was magic.

Now, that moment would not have happened if I hadn’t been invited; however, it made me realize the value of time to yourself and how as you get older, you have to create them. Ironically, they can’t be forced. “Christmas magic” as it is according to that Facebook post is the same way. I can’t just walk into anyone’s house, wave my hand, say “Christmas magic!” and let it be so. Nor can anyone else. It’ll just sort of happen.

And there’s the paradox.

Or maybe it’s not a paradox and I’ve just gotten fed up with the amount of complaining I’ve heard this year. We all have our lawns and yet we seem to be spending more time protecting them than enjoying them, and have set such high expectations that we’ll never be anything but disappointed. So maybe it’s not necessarily stuff that needs to be uncollected, but all of the pressure we put on ourselves and the time we have. And if we do, then maybe the magic will come.

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