It never fails. Days I am determined to sleep in at all costs I wake up in the wee hours and there is no getting back to dreamland. So today, Christmas Day, with no need to be, nor with anyone carrying on about Santa, I was up at 5am. No miraculous explosions of snow from the sky, no unexpected proliferation of gifts around the tree, and no excitement. Just a cat pushing a quarter-century tottering around making demands for fresh food, and a gigantic amount of relief on my part that I didn't have to go anywhere or do anything for the entire day.
By 6am I was wondering how many households in my neighborhood were already well into their Christmas festivities. Plenty, I'm sure, especially if an abundance of oversized inflatable yard decorations are any measure of enthusiasm. I could live without seeing these things, but I do like the lights. I like sudden, unexpected appearances of cheer. I like the random kindness of people, like the woman the other day who stood in front of me digging in her purse post-transaction and ranting about the frustrations of parking downtown and that "she wouldn't even be here if she didn't want to buy from local stores" and just at the point where I was about to tear off all my clothes and run howling into the middle of Higgins Avenue in hopes of being dragged off to a warm cell and food provided without the need to scan every option on three different online delivery service menus volleying, "I don't know what I feel like, what do you feel like?" back and forth with a hangry co-worker growing surlier by the moment, she produced a little card and gave it to me, her eyes smiling brightly, and said, "But Merry Christmas." The card, which I have in my desk at the store, reads, "I Appreciate You."
It would be easy for me to launch into an anti-Christmas diatribe but I don't really want to. If you're compelled to be indignant and outraged, read this classic 2012 piece called "On the 12th day of Christmas ... your gift will just be junk" by George Monbiot. It holds up. If you want some dark humor, listen to David Sedaris read about being a department store elf. Being on the frontline with the public, whether you work in retail or food service or anything, is not for the meek.
But damn, do I have some fond memories of Christmas, and I know it is a privilege to have them. I grew up in a solid working class family and it seemed full of love and joy during the holidays. These are memories of times when we were all together—Mom, Dad, me, my two sisters, so, so many pets—and we all seemed to get along and like each other. There were gifts and food and dark deals (if you tell me what Mom got me, I'll tell you what your sister got you....) and I only recall happiness. There were traditions—one gift to open on Christmas Eve, for example, which was always pajamas—and a sense of excitement and abundance. School programs, band and choir concerts, extra days off. Farting contests on the stairs while we waited for Mom and Dad to get up. And Santa!
We try and maintain traditions even now but the only one that really survives is some kind of Christmas Eve junk food-fueled get together. Homemade pizzas or nachos, and plenty of snacks. And farting, of course; we're a gassy family. At least everyone else is, I’m far too sophisticated. Covid all but derailed it this year but four of us did manage to convene at my mom's house in the heart of Hellgate Canyon and sit outside in the glorious cold and roast hot dogs and s'mores over her backyard fire pit. I loved it, especially the part that involved drinking a significant amount of my son's beer. Hamm's! The giggles! The gas! It's easy to forget that relaxing with the people you've known the longest and love the most isn't always like the horror stories that are attached to big family dinners and gatherings. My inner circle is small, and I love every one of them immeasurably. They're who got me through the day working the Christmas Eve scrum. They're who sent me home in a good mood. They're who make life better.
We stopped doing any big Christmas Day activities a few years ago. Sometimes it's hard but I do look forward to the peace of having my own schedule for the day. Depending on the day of the week the holiday lands on it is the only day off for many of us, then it's right back into the trenches on the 26th. That sucks. This year I have a couple days yet but I'm under an avalanche of deadlines that I can only meet if I'm not behind a cash register or opening boxes. Today I alternated between sitting around and doing chores.
I'm sure it's always been like this, the shortest payoff after weeks of stress then it's back to the mines, but from a child's perspective, where most of my Christmas memories reside, it wasn't. Dad's shift work schedule at the mill did not guarantee he would always be there on Christmas but I remember the ones he was there, not the ones he wasn’t. Other families were in the same boat. But what was the retail world like in the 70s, 80s, and 90s? From where I am now it seems we have ceded so much to the faceless, all-powerful "customer" and getting them more junk that few of us really get to enjoy any kind of holiday beyond a few-hour window in a single day, no matter which holiday it is or what season it lives in. Then it's back to selling more shit to stressed-out masses.
I've learned that traditionally, Métis celebrations over New Year's were multi-day affairs, with lots of feasting and dancing and fiddle music. I'm also thinking of summer powwows, also multi-day affairs, important not just for the commerce necessary for people making their living off that circuit, but also the establishment of connections to extended friends and family. As 4H kids, the fair was a kind of holiday, where we would park the camper at the fairgrounds and live there for a week. What a joy that was, seeing our 4H friends from around the state and dodging creeps in the midway.
Just now as I'm contemplating this, do conferences fulfill similar roles now? Certainly for reconnecting to colleagues and friends. They suck in a lot of ways (still dodging creeps, all these years later), but they are also, at times, fantastic. I think of the life friends I've made with fellow panelists from the Montana Book Festival a couple years ago and my mind is kind of blown. What joy there too!
More joy, less bullshit, people. In all our celebrations and gatherings and interactions. That's what I want. Let's figure out a way to have more of them too. Why was the last time I sat at the fire at my mom’s a year ago? Why do we make it so hard?
I hope everyone had a decent holiday, however you celebrate it or choose not to. I hope sugar faeries are dancing in all your heads. They’re in mine, with wild hair, big hearts, and they’re fearless about love and joy.