Shopping days till Christmas. Then it all comes together. A time of year when we can connect with loved ones in a concrete way, not a messy spiritual way. By box proxy, bright with goodwill wrapping, crinkling paper, and hasty ink-stained tags. To’s. From;s. For’s. Merries and Christmases. Dinner. And into the night of present-playing/wearing and television while slipping into a fumey state of forgetful ease. Then it’s over. The wise men travel west, away from the Star over Bethlehem, back to the Mediterranean. The tree stands like a ravished maiden, make-up running in bright, blinking silvers and reds and blues and greens down the length of her gown, feet buried in gaudy paper. Stupored. Awaiting demise.
Watching people exit our local liquor stores reminds me that this is at once the holiest and loneliest time of year. The blaring build up, trumpeted by advertisers to help us lie ourselves into belief, fizzles when eyes grow weary of looking for the Christmas miracle. That for me that would mean good will scattered from a shotgun, triggered by some moral force and directed at the less fortunate. But watching people enter and exit the local ABC liquor outlet, other thoughts come to mind. And I wonder about the place of drinking in the holy days.
It appears that for many, alcohol goes with the season. It’s the Christmas cheer that bolsters the spirits and enhances our mood. For others, drinking becomes an effective but temporary shield against loneliness and failure, in which case the aftermath overwhelms a few hours of blissful self-delusion. Christmas comes like a tidal wave of stress, the opposite of the spiritual mood we long for. Present buying, parties, preparations of all sorts, all for the big day. Christmas has become a festive rather than meditative time. It is a season of celebration but deep down we need that little soul stroll through the quiet church of the mind. And the strength of that need determines how intensely we try to satisfy it.
The world can be dichotomized in many ways. One of my favorites is to split its inhabitants into romantics and realists. Of course there’s a little of both in all of us. I’m mostly romantic, the sensitive type. For me, life in general means catching short glimpses of those details many overlook in their quest for significance and success Things like the glimmer of sunlight on the morning grass or the moon filtering through trees during an evening walk. And during this time of year, for Christmas to be more than a buying spree leading to that proxy emotional fix we get by handing out presents. The season is, in short, very dangerous for me and my old buddy alcohol. We’ve spent so many years together snatching fantasy from the jaws of reality that it only seems natural in the rush and flash of the holidays to again delude myself, to believe that peace abounds and good will can be found everywhere.
I’m an extreme case, you might think, but of all the times of year, now is when all of us are most vulnerable to our benevolent tendencies; now, when we actually believe that something beyond the mess of survival can become tangible in our lives through the magical, harmonious sound of Christmas. It’s not protection we crave; it’s the once a year assurance that the core of the world is moral and that our trust in a universe we barely understand is justified. But when shadows of evidence to the contrary dim our hopes, however slightly, we turn to artificial means to make the ending days of the December what we want them to be, peaceful and tolerant.
As you enjoy glad tidings and a drink or two with friends wherever you are, don’t think for a moment that this once a year journey will sanctify all the mean spirited, feed all the hungry, or make your children into selfless little cherubs. Take these days for what they are, a nod to the possibilities of the goodness in all of us. We can drink and laugh and rage and confound the spirit of the season and we can intend and expect and desire. But it all boils down to this: The world is already better than we can ever make it. And that is the true lesson of Christmas.
Mike lives in Florida as a retired high school English teacher. He devotes most of his time working on his websites and writing on Artist's Inlet Press. This becomes a marriage of productivity and convenience because Florida summers tend to keep people inside away from the heat. His writing output tends toward social criticism. Mike's hero is Jack Kerouac.
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