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“Everyone gets dildos and cookies for Christmas,” said Susie as she threw herself down on the couch and gave a humbug recitation on the season. I gathered she was a little exasperated by the holiday and quite fed up with the commercial orgy of consumerism. With my beloved Susie, there are many layers of meaning in her behavior and expression. At the end of her tirade on the false values and obscene greed that Christmas engenders and the contempt in which she now holds the holiday, I commented, “You sound like a jilted lover. There’s a bitterness in your voice that says more than coming to a realization of the hollowness of Christmas.” She stopped, thought, and said, “I guess you’re right.” Susie’s been getting fed up with the Santa Claus mythology as well. We’ve always been wary of fairytale stories like Santa and the Tooth Fairy, debating the wisdom of constructing a fragile fantasy that would one day crumble and whether it was better just to find joy in what was more earthly and real. After all, a child’s world develops it's own mythology, in a comfortable and loving environment at least, so why guild the lily? Our whip-smart youngest child turned 10 this year and she had already started asking tough, smart, probing questions during the last holiday season. In fact, we assumed she knew, but she was just holding out for fear of losing the presents. Finally, after a barrage of cross-examination, we decided the time had come. Susie pulled one of the boys in and looked at me. I was to have the honors. “There’s no Santa Claus.” Her face sank. It is one thing to know intellectually and another to feel it in your body. She felt it. Dad said it was so. Jordan recounted how he learned from Susie one holiday season in the van. “What about the tooth fairy?” he had asked, feeling the economic threat. Well now it was done for Lia and it seemed to have gone reasonably well. I went back to my browsing on the laptop, but it was not over, Daddy. It meant more than I realized. Emotion was welling up in the girls. For Susan, it was the end of an era in motherhood. The last child to give up the fairy life of childhood. For Lia, it was the end of the fairy life part of childhood. This was to be the end of another era. The era of the live, or once live but dying in the house, Christmas tree was about to end. I have always clung to the absurd ritual of buying a real tree every year. I am sentimental, believe it or not, and I like the smell of the tree, and the fact that each year has an individual quality in some ways signified by the various trees. We have the hunt with the children to find the right tree—complete with the nursery employees huddled around the fire burning in a 55 gallon drum--and the futile search for last year’s stand. Then there is the annual ‘price to size and harmonious-shape comparisons’ with my father. On the other hand there is the shedding, cost and disposal of the tree. I must say that some years the tree sat on the front porch until the ides of March or later. Susan has always wanted to go artificial, but they have never looked close to right to me and I held fast to this one last tradition. But this year, the trees were truly uninspiring. Our usual nursery, the supplier of 9 of the last ten trees had had spindly Charley Brown trees at premium prices and there was no fire in the drum, to add insult to disappointment. A survey of the other vendors in the area came up equally disappointing. On the other hand, the artificial trees have come a long way, they have gotten very clever with the trompe l’oiel effects and, instead of having individual pipe cleaner branches, the new trees have branches which lock into an upright position for easy storage. We got one,
and in the days leading up to Christmas, I found myself absently pulling at the needles of the tree and a little surprised when my hand came away empty. On one of the mornings leading up to Christmas, Susie and I were laying in bed and the topic of her disgust with the Gift-Go-Round came up in conjunction with the fact, which I was not happy about, that we were to go out to a houseful of relatives for the blessed day. I like to cook and I like to be in my home with my family on holidays. But now that my parents have come to the area, I am obliged to travel, either to their house or another relative’s for celebratory purposes. I brought up how I hate the question “What did you get for Christmas?”; kind of my version of “Cookies and Dildos” disgust at the focus of things. I said, “If somebody asks me that at the Christmas Party, I’m going to say: (an intent, semi-rapturous tone in my voice and a far-off look on my face) We were lying in be on Christmas Morning and the skylight over our bed began to fill with a warm light, and a rich full tone filled the room, coming from nowhere and everywhere at the same time, and it told me not to want, and that everything I needed I had, everything I wanted I had, and that the world was a temporary and empty place, filled with sound and fury and that when I stepped out the door I would feel a peace and fulfillment that needed no words or objects and the fullness of time would be in my every living moment unto eternity and that this was my gift.” Susan was delighted. “You have to say that to someone in front of me. That’s what I want this Christmas.” “Really?” I answered. “OK.” I got a tip on a recent CD from a blogger about my age who said his 14 year old and he had both enjoyed it, so I downloaded it from Napster-To-Go, put it on the flash player and listed to it. I liked one of the songs, and I really felt my oldest, George, would love the whole thing. I’m not the Christmas shopper in the family, but I usually like to pick up something for each of the kids that I choose personally. I thought the Dirty Pretty Things CD might be right for the boy. But, I wasn’t sure so I decided to do a little test. I picked him up from school one day and had the album queued up on the mp3 player. We drove home and I dropped him off and went back to work. The next morning as I was driving the boys to work, George asked for the name of that group we had listened to the day before, thus, in effect, getting the CD for Christmas. Several days later, I was browsing the hole in the wall CD store for used Cd's and decided to check and see if they had the CD in stock, which they did, at a very reasonable brick and mortar price. So I bought it, and placed it under the front seat of my car, atop Susie’s stocking surprise, Policewoman, the Complete First Season. Several days later as I was driving the boy home from school, he asked how I came to find out about the Dirty Pretty Things and I told him, and reaching under the seat I explained how I conspired to buy it for him, handing him his Christmas present a week early. Later that day Susie told me that George had told him the whole story of his Christmas present and that she could tell how much it meant to him. On Christmas Day, after the subdued (compared to the years when the kids’ ages were in the single digits) opening of the presents and breakfast, we got in the car and went to the big Christmas Party, which was pleasant enough. After we had eaten and I was having coffee, sitting with a couple of my cousins and Susie sat down with us. The conversation came around to presents and Susie said to me, expectantly, “John, tell them what you got for Christmas.” “Really?” I asked, knowing full well what she wanted. “Tell them,” she
insisted. “All right,” I said a bit reluctantly and began, in kind of an off-hand way, “We were lying in bed the other morning and a warm light….” As I spoke, I watched their attention grow and they became, well, enthralled and I actually began to enjoy the performance. I finished and, after a pause, one cousin asked, respectfully, “Did that really happen?” The others were waiting and Susie was loving it. “Of course not,” I said, “I got a crock pot and an electric griddle.” In the end there were some cookies but no dildos. A little childhood slipped out of the holiday, as it does every year, no matter how we feel about it. And the line between the plastic and the organic, the social and instinctive, traditional and adaptive gets a little blurrier and less important in my little center of the universal.
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