Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Nightmare Before Christmas

There’s a funny thing about Christmas. Unless you are a child, have a child, or approach Christmas like a child, Christmas isn’t really going to do much to fill your heart with the jingle bells of joy. I thought of this when reading Gail Cornhill’s article in the Weekend Witness recently. She has such a gleeful approach to the holiday that she just has to enfuse everyone around her with her own delight.

Young children usually feel the same enthusiasm about Christmas. I only have to think back to my earliest memories of Christmas to remember that barely tolerable excitement that the mere thought of the day itself engendered. When my brothers and I were small, my parents used to let us stay up late on Christmas Eve. When midnight struck, we were finally allowed to open our presents. The giddy joy we felt on these special nights is captured in numerous photographs where we are posing with grins as wide as Santa’s sleigh in front of the annual Christmas tree.

One year in particular stands out more than any other. My father had come home with a wonderful set of candles and holders which were meant to be attached to the Christmas tree. As was the fashion of the time, the tree was one hundred percent synthetic and a brilliant unnatural green. We couldn’t wait to light the candles on Christmas Eve. The electric lights were switched off. We held our breath, and my father moved forward to perform the magical ceremony. He took out his trusty cigarette lighter and lit the first one. Unfortunately, the lighter had delusions of grandeur and it did a fairly good job as a flame-thrower that night. Its flames leapt up about three branches high, searing a path of brilliant red flame as it went. It took just a moment for the whole tree, lovingly collected ornaments and all, to disappear in a singe of flames. A sadly blackened wire skeleton took its place, and a mournful swirl of smoke lingered around the ceiling. My father’s face was a picture. For a moment, we weren’t sure whether to feel delighted by the tree’s dramatic moment of glory or whether to mourn its sudden demise. My mother soon made her feelings clear. My father was in the dog box, make no mistake. He had to redeem himself. And quickly. He disappeared in his car, only to return a few hours later. He had a box with him and a large smile on his face. Things were looking up. Out of the box he withdrew a snow white tree, as artificial as its predecessor. He’d managed to find one late night café open with a white tree on display. After bartering with the owner for who knows how long, he was able to return, in triumph. We were thrilled. No one we knew had ever had a white tree before. And in a brief moment, Christmas became Christmas once again.

I think that is the thing about Christmas. It’s the way we approach it that makes it what it is. If we see it as just another huge responsibility and chore – which I must confess I have done for the past few years – it loses its sparkle completely. But if we can put a spin on it, and change a holiday from the singed black burnt out skeleton of consumerism and chores into a feather light white froth of inconsequential joys, then perhaps we can recreate our child-like approach to Christmas once again. And maybe, just maybe, we can enjoy the moment like we used to.

608 words.

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