I put up a string of lights on the eaves in front of the house and pulled our silver, two-foot tall fake tree out of the rafters of the garage, to be erected and decorated in the not-too-distant future. That was fine. I was pretty happy with how the lights looked, and I was eager to decorate the tree with the kids.
Then I checked Facebook and saw the projects some of my friends have been doing in preparation for the holidays. Creating mischievous scenarios for elves on shelves. Putting miniature, fully decorated Christmas trees in jars. Writing gift guides on their blogs. Essentially redecorating their entire houses. Just seeing them exhausted me.
I was changing the spark plugs in my wife’s car (the one I need to sell now that she got her midlife crisismobile) when I saw the gay couple whose garage opens onto the same alley as ours. They had a banquet table set up in their immaculate garage, full of wreaths, gingerbread houses, and other Christmas crafts they were working on. I almost collapsed.
I had to go to the Apple store today, which is pretty much the only reason I ever go to the mall. Exhausting. The idea of shopping, even for someone else, especially another adult, wears me out. Every once in a long while, I think of a brilliant gift. But mostly, I don’t know what anybody wants. That might be because there’s nothing that I want.
There’s a lot about Christmas that vexes me, and that sometimes makes it difficult to remember the parts of the holiday that I do like. It’s the overkill. And the stuff. Where are people putting all the stuff they are giving to one another? Where are they keeping all these decorations when they’re not in use? Where are we going to put all the stuff that people will give our kids? Our house and garage are already packed to the gills. It’s the frenzy of materialism and its resulting clutter that saps me of almost all enthusiasm for the holiday.
A few years ago, for some reason, I bought a book of Christmas music for classical guitar. I hadn’t learned any of the pieces in it, probably because I was too drained from being exposed to other people’s Christmas spirit. But I picked it up last night and started noodling around. They’re easy pieces, even for a hack like me, and soon I was chopping my way through one of my favorite carols. There’s almost nothing more gratifying to me than struggling through a mess of musical notes on a page until they start to take shape as a song; and it had been a long time since I learned a new piece. In the process, I had to confront the fact that, despite my grinchiness, I like a lot of traditional Christmas music, and by staying away from malls, I have avoided being overexposed to it.
Maybe that can be my contribution to the Christmas tradition in our family. I’ll subject my loved ones to hearing me stumble through the same measures over and over again as I learn a new piece each year. I can imagine myself playing these songs in front of a modestly decorated Christmas tree, maybe with a little egg nog in my brandy, and it doesn’t even exhaust me.