Hey! Is it the First Friday already?? Okay, so off the top of my head, this is what I’m thinking about. Today, I saw a movie called Krampus. It’s a Christmas-themed light horror movie in the spirit of Gremlins that also invokes the familial horror of a film like Christmas Vacation. The movie opens with the dulcet tones of Andy Williams singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” while a dumbshow plays of people trampling each other for Black Friday sales: a terrified store employee falls helplessly to the ground, shoppers slug each other in their efforts to obtain a discounted toaster, and store security guards taser a couple of middle aged yuppies with a look of wild excitement in their eyes. This is what signals the start of the holidays now: frenzy. And yet, that’s not how it has always been. I don’t think there’s a “War on Christmas” or anything, and I have no problem with plain red cups at Starbucks, but I do feel a shift in the way Christmas feels.
Christmas has become a bit of a paradox. On one hand, I get excited about the season – I look forward to the idea of it. On the other hand, I get inexplicably vexed by seeing Christmas trees and decorations in stores before I have even handed out my Halloween candy. Perhaps the presence of all these decorations so early in the year just reminds me how different the experience of Adult Christmas is from Kid Christmas.
Kid Christmas was awesome. I can’t remember anything bad about it. I know that’s just how memory works – we amplify the things that are good and diminish the things that are not – but I really did always think of Christmas as being kind of magical. It wasn’t just because of Santa – I mean, that’s part of it, sure, but it was also the time that our families all were together. On Christmas Eve, we went to my mom’s parents’ house. My grandfather played Santa and passed out gifts to everyone. We all waited while the gifts were opened and we “Ooohed and Aaahed” over everything that everybody got. Then we went to our aunt and uncle’s house for Christmas Eve dinner and there were more presents, but mostly it was the chance to see each other all at once and love on each other in a way that we never really did any other day of the year.
Christmas Day was even better. We went to my dad’s parents’ house, and Grandma Odum made amazing food for us: biscuits, gravy, ham, potatoes, cookies, and pies. We spent hours eating and laughing. We got to see
cousins that we hardly ever saw. The house was so warm and happy on those Christmas mornings, and my aunts got us the most awesomely bad gifts, but I loved it. The worst: a purple sweatshirt with a hand-knitted orange cat on it. One of the best gifts though: the year my grandparents bought all of us, even cousins, bicycles. My uncle Frank taught me to ride it in the street that day. That was the real gift – not really the bike but that time with my uncle, even the part where I crashed in the ditch.
Adult Christmas just doesn’t reach the same emotional highs. It’s not bad or anything, but there are so many things that escaped my notice as a kid. My wife and I were stringing the lights on the Christmas tree the other day and talking about how much real work goes into creating that ethereal magic. When we were kids, we just showed up and ate the food and appreciated the lights – we never really thought about the fact that someone (mostly grandmothers) put a lot of effort into creating that experience for the whole family. And dealing with family can be trying – there was nothing more exciting about Kid Christmas than the people we shared it with. But Adult Christmas comes with a lot of strained relationships that the best adults are able to smooth over. Tongues are bitten and cheeks get turned for the greater peace of the holiday.
Something that you also don’t realize as a kid is that Adult Christmas comes with a certain amount of financial anxiety – big feasts cost money and so do presents and gift wrap and lights and things. A whole lot of investment that goes into creating the experience of a single day. There is a payoff, but not on the level of what used to be. It’s stressful to find the perfect gifts for everyone every year. And most disappointing of all, the feeling of the holiday fades really fast.
I am haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Past – not in a Scrooge kind of way but in the way that nostalgia messes with all of us and makes us hope that Christmas will be more than it really is: a day. It’s a day that, if I am lucky, I will get to spend with some people that I really love. It’s not really a great movie, but the point of Krampus is that if we don’t cherish the things like family and tradition that are the real treasures of Christmas, then it can become little more than a horror that we have to endure. Krampus is the shadow of Christmas that looms over us, threatening to destroy any real joy we have for the season. But the better we can remember and embrace the Kid Christmas mindset, the better chance we have to love the season and all that goes with it. So that is what I want to be more mindful of this year.
I wish you all a Merry Kid Christmas. See you in the new year!
© Ryna May 2015