Wednesday, December 24, 2008

happy holidays from belle

(This is on the heels of Phoebe's and Rita's excellent posts, and so I am not claiming originality.)

And a Complicated Happy Holidays to You!

Growing up, we were way poor and way Buddhist, and so we never celebrated Christmas. But it was more due to slow assimilation and poverty than a normative position on the non-celebration of Christmas. We definitely didn't celebrate Christmas in the two bedroom apartment that accommodated the eight of us, but when we moved to the suburbs into a four-bedroom house, we started stretching out a bit. We got a fake tree and we wrapped an empty box and put it underneath. Somewhere in junior high school, some siblings grew up and got jobs and I started getting a present or two, like a watch, a pair of shoes, etc. I was eleven years old when my first nephew was born, and with the new generation kids came a reason to celebrate. Putting up the fake tree became a tradition starting in high school.

When I was in college, there was an explosion of childbirths. By the time I graduated from law school in 2005, there were already seven grand children. Now there are nine total, ranging from 2 years to 17 years. So now Christmas is huge with us. I bake. There's decorations and icicle lights hanging from both our house and the gazebo my brother built. Stacks of presents. The kids love it, the parents (my siblings) feel at once assimilated and able to provide the American dream for their children, and even my parents like the festiveness of it all. My parents love gaudy colors and decorations, and my dad likes the garland and lights.

And I'm not immune from all of this too--you kidding me, with my innate sentimentality? I don't decorate my apartment now, but two years ago I had Christmas lights and a 9" tree with ornaments. Somehow, in the most recent move in January 2008, I decided to chuck everything. It just felt like clutter. I didn't need extra cheer or gaudy glamour anymore, being free of drama and feeling better about school and just starting to get comfortable in a new relationship. It just felt like a pile of tcothkes, and I was, with this third move in 1.5 years, sick of extra stuff. So I gave all the lights, little tree, and ornaments to Goodwill. It felt great and liberating. I don't miss them at all.

Except when I visit my parents, and remember how much I like all the lights and decorations. And on Christmas day, when the kids take a picture in front of the tree. That's nice too.

Why do I talk with such nostalgia? Because the idea of the holiday season is fascinating to me right now. People only grudgingly admit that they like some of the trappings of the holiday season, because for some reason being happy is a bad thing. I can imagine why being happy for consumerist, gluttonous reasons other than Jesus's birth might annoy certain Christians and Catholics, but in general, being schmaltzy isn't a bad thing, unless you have a slavish devotion to irony or grinchishness. But I do get why non-Christians are irritated at the excesses of Christmas--it's just so much in-your-face if you don't celebrate on purpose.

I've been talking to TD a lot about it--which traditions we'll allow when we start a family. Even now my apartment is spare for the aforementioned reasons and it just seems weird to mess up my relatively minimalist decor. And Christmas isn't for me, it's for family. But one day I'll have a family of my own. I only recently got used to celebrating Christmas, and one day I'll get used to not celebrating it. TD asks me why we celebrate Christmas. I don't know--it just seems the thing to do in America, being Americans, so we do it. But I guess one day I can just as easily not do it, even though it would greatly amuse me to dress up our kids in velvet holiday dresses and put reindeer antlers on them. Sigh. So, no more trees or carols, but I get to still bake cookies (of course). I'll swap Christmas decorations like wreaths for Hanukkah decorations like who-knows-what. Menorahs and dreidls and latkes will replace my bells and reindeer and Santa. Snowmen are apparently always lame, especially in Orange County, so I guess I can give that up, unless they are of the tortured/existential Calvin and Hobbes variety. We can have presents, of course. He's anti-Christmas, but not anti-holiday spirit. That's good. I am just bursting with holiday spirit time of year. I sent out a bunch of cards last week, and am still making mixes this week to send out!

So that's good to know. I am probably barred from playing my four favorite mostly secular holiday songs, but for the reasons that they're schmaltzy pop than anything else. Apparently, Mariah is not welcome in the house. So I'll play them for you! Happy Holidays!

Here we go: