You knew it was coming, that I couldn't stay in high dudgeon forever, that at some point my grinchy heart would grow three sizes and I'd be calling out "God bless us, everyone!" to anyone with ears. You knew it, and yet you said nothing. Jerks.
But seriously, this happens every year: I start off like Ebeneezer Grinch, and just like said mashed up Christmas-hater, I wind up sledding down Mt. Crumpet to return all the merch, dancing in the streets of Victorian Whoville, carving the roast beast with the Cratchets, won over by the spirit that so often seems buried beneath packages, boxes, and bags.
Things that won me over this year:
- My 500 Children: One cannot teach and lead holiday singing in an elementary school without having some of their delight rub off on one. And one absolutely cannot do bus duty with kindergartners wearing a Santa hat and maintain a gruff attitude toward the jolly old elf. When they glommed onto me at the door, wrapping their little bodies around my legs and jumping to bat at the pompon, I had nowhere to go but merry.
- The Annual Short-Jenkins/ComedySportz Holiday Party: As usual at this event, once I had all the calories I cared to consume, I gravitated to the piano, where I rotated among my many instruments: trumpet, recorder, djembe, egg shaker, and, yes, piano. Singing along to Christmas carols is da bom. Being the pianist at the center of a carol sing is da bom diggity.
- Less Shopping=More Joy: I decided several years ago that my part in my family's annual gift exchange would henceforth be consumable. While I did order a few things for my kids and my parents, they all came from Amazon, meaning I needn't come within many miles of a shopping mall. And my other holiday gift-giving came at Hanukkah, which was wonderfully situated this year at Thanksgiving. Since one of my primary grinch triggers is Black Friday style greed, I was able to distance myself from the shoppers crawling home in stop-and-go traffic with their treasures.
- Less Church=More Reflection: In my preaching days, Christmas always meant digging into the dark, depressing heart of the Nativity to find things I could use to shake up people's preconceived notions of what the holiday was all about. Once I stopped preaching, but continued to be a church musician, I found myself suffering through sentimental sermons often based on holiday films that did not in any way say any cogent thing about the revolutionary heart of the manger stories. There is just no way "You'll shoot your eye out, kid," the favorite text of the now-retired senior pastor at Vancouver First UMC, could be manipulated into a gospel message, try though he might. With a blog rather than a pulpit, and no piano bench chaining me to a chancel, I can think and say exactly what I want to, leaving nothing unsaid, and letting you make that TLDR decision yourself. Ahhhhhhh.
- A Memorial at the Peace House: A former housemate of mine passed away a few days ago. Her memorial service was Saturday. The Peace House is always decorated to the nines at Christmas, in large part because of the many grief groups that meet in the living room, all of which have Christmas parties to tearfully accept the fact that the holiday will never again feature the presence of the loved one being mourned. The first year I lived there, the sense of living in a Christmas boutique was overwhelming; but once I understood what it was all about, picked up on the poignancy of it (in addition to their recovery function, many of the decorations were bequeathed by an AIDS patient who died at the Peace House under Pat Schwiebert's expert hospice nursing), I came to believe that, of all places I've been, this address was most a most fitting repository for lights, ornaments, wreaths, tinsel, garlands, Santas, etc. Being there for a memorial service drove this all home again.
- I can't stay grumpy forever: The final truth in this essay, and series of essays, is that, at heart, I'm still the little boy who loves Christmas trees. However much I may fume over the crassness of store displays, the exploitation of marketers, the sentimental dreck piped into every public place, it all vanishes when I'm sitting in my living room with a lit-up tree from which hang dozens of decorations, each of which has a story behind it.
So there it is. In the end, I'm a sap, a sucker for the season. Hope you're happy.
Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one.