Ghosts of Past Christmas Eves

Dec 24, 1977
I’m alone in the house.  The tree is decorated and I think it’s gorgeous; it’s the first Christmas tree I’ve ever had. The day drags on as I wait for my roommates to return from family obligations; I’m the only one with no places to go.

Evening comes and the 3 of us are back for dinner.  We make ham, mashed potatoes, and green beans. I’ve made a pie for dessert.  It’s not fancy food, and looking back I realize that we were not yet the most skilled of cooks, but that meal that day was a first; the first time I’d ever participated in Christmas in a house where I lived.

Dec 24, 1982
I’m feeling emotionally alone. There is a small tree, more of a shrub, on the coffee table; it was our compromise. I have a 6-month-old baby who doesn’t yet sleep through the night.  My marriage is not doing well; my husband spends far too much time out at bars, seeing bands, hanging out with friends.  This was supposed to stop when we decided to have a baby, then when we got pregnant, then when the baby was born.  I realize now it will never stop.  I’m working 3 nights a week from 5 to midnight in an industrial kitchen.  It is hard, physical work and just adds to my exhaustion.

We’ve invited friends over for dinner.  I will cook the entire dinner, and do all the clean up afterwards, while caring for the baby in-between.  I am deeply unhappy, but mostly tired.

Dec 24, 1992
I’m alone in the house.  There’s no tree; a few Chanukah decorations are still up, but that holiday is over.  My daughter is at her Dad’s house celebrating Christmas with him.  Deciding on the holidays was easy when we divorced; she will spend Thanksgiving with me, Christmas with her father.

I’m not sad or depressed; Christmas never was my holiday.  I’m watching old movies on TV, cooking a nice steak for dinner with a bottle of red wine.  There’s a fire roaring away in the fireplace.  It’s peaceful and quiet.  The next day I’ll go to a friend’s house for dinner.

Dec 24, 2004
I’m not alone.  It’s my first Christmas with Rick.  My dad is in the hospital having heart surgery.  Rick and I sat with my Mom in the hospital all morning. We were planning on spending Christmas with his family, but he’s told them he’ll be with me instead.  When the all clear comes from the surgeons my Mom suggests we should leave.

It’s a strange Christmas Eve.  I’d grown used to being alone, having my nice meal and watching old movies.  Instead of my peaceful, quiet reverie, I spent the morning worrying about my father, and then off to a family I barely know.

Dec 24, 2013
I’m alone in the house.  There is no sign of Christmas, apart from the cards resting on the mantelpiece.

I’m back to the same Christmas Eves I had for the past 35 years, but I’m not the same person.

Advertisements

It’s a Wonderful Life – Isn’t

Of all the movies considered holiday classics, It’s a Wonderful Life is the odd man out.  Christmas movies generally center around, well, Christmas.  Plots focus on the holiday, and conflicts are resolved with everyone ending up with what they want.  In A Christmas Story, Ralphie gets the air-rifle and has the best Christmas of his life.  He doesn’t know that, but we do.  This is the one that he’ll remember years later.  Clark does get the bonus check in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  Kevin’s parents come home. These are happy movies.   Even the granddaddy of them all, Dicken’s A Christmas Carol,  ends the same in each and every version, with a reformed Scrooge providing a feast for the fecund Cratchit family, and the audience assured that Tiny Tim will end up healthy.

Which is why It’s a Wonderful Life is so different.  The movie doesn’t have a traditional happy ending.  At its start we meet George Bailey and get an introduction to his life.  He is smarter and more ambitious than anyone around him, and wants out of the stuffy town of Bedford Falls.  His plans are waylaid by a combination of bad luck and bad relatives.  His father dies unexpectedly as George is readying to leave town.  The family business is a partnership, but the partner is the semi-moronic, most likely closet-alcoholic Uncle Billy, a man who provides the answer to the question “Why is nepotism bad”.  Instead of waving goodbye, George ends up promising his mother to watch over the family business until his younger brother retunes from college.   Harry Bailey, George’s younger brother, turns out to be as dependable as Uncle Billy.  Instead of holding up his end of the bargain, he returns from college with a rich new wife and makes a clean escape from the stifling burg of Bedford Falls.

George has a decision.  He can stay in the town he finds boring with job he despises, or he can leave.  He feels the call of duty and stays, ending up marrying the girl next door who never had any ambition in life other than being Mrs. George Bailey.

That’s where we come in to the movie.  George is now middle-aged, still running the Building and Loan, still employing the worthless Uncle Billy, still dreaming of excitement and travel.  He’s content with his life, but not really happy.  The crisis that George goes through is manufactured; it happens only because Uncle Billy is a moronic halfwit who probably would be challenged by which end of the brush to use in scrubbing a toilet.  It’s the weakest part of the movie, and acts only to move to the story to the denouement, when George discovers that his life of lowered expectations and unmet dreams is actually good, that in fact he has a wonderful life.

The scenes of Bedford Falls without George act to assuage his sense of frustration in having sacrificed all his dreams.  George, and the audience, sees the consequences that would have arisen had he not been there to lose his dreams.  The Building and Loan would have failed, leaving his mother a poor widow.  Uncle Billy and Druggist Gower both spent time in institutions.  Bedford Falls is a party town, and (oh Lordy no!) there appear to be jazz music and Negroes.  Worst of all, of course, is the fate of Mary, who has become… gasp… the town librarian (apparently the most horrible thing that could befall a woman) and, judging from her clothes, perhaps a Lesbian as well.

And so we leave George at the end of the movie, with family, townspeople, and the bank examiner all in his living room.  He’s still a middle-aged guy who will never travel or leave Bedford Falls, and he still has to work with people who are far less competent and intelligent than he is.  He’s no better off than he was before; but now he’s learned that he is personally responsible for making everyone else’s life better.  Talk about guilt.   He’s everyone who ever turned 40 and wondered what the hell happened.

Merry Christmas from Sarah, Bill and me

I don’t celebrate Christmas, which of course makes me less of an American in the eyes of Sarah Palin and Bill O’Reilly and all the other notables on the Fox News/Tea Party side of the great American political divide.
20121203-oreillyxmas

sarah palin

To them this is clearly and obviously a Christian country, and always has been since Jesus and George Washington first wrote the Constitution.
USJesus

I was shocked, really truly deeply , to find out a few years ago that there is a war going on, and that I and those like me are the aggressors against the poor, overwhelmed and terrified 90% of individuals in this country that identify as Christian.  Apparently, my status as a non-Christian is an affront to the real Americans, of whom I am certainly not.  I am sorry.

gillie-sorry

My sins are vast and many, and as the first step in my atonement (and I hope use of the word “atonement” doesn’t too clearly mark me as being Jewish) I am listing a few for which I ask forgiveness:

  • When I was in third grade, our December art class activity was creating Christmas tree ornaments.  I threw mine out on the way home.  I wasn’t the best artist, but more to the point we didn’t have a Christmas tree and I couldn’t see any use for them.  I realize, now, that in doing this I was assaulting the decent God-fearing, Christmas celebrating kids in my class and in this nation.
  • When out shopping for gifts, I’ve been known to say a cheery “Happy Holidays” to people.  It was intended to be friendly, but Bill O’Reilly has opened my eyes to how painful this is to people that celebrate Christmas.  As I find it hard to tell who is Christian and who isn’t just by looking at them, from now on I will shun eye contact to avoid insulting anyone by stating the wrong greeting.
  • Some of my favorite movies play this time of year.  While Christmas-themed, I never thought that “Christmas Story”, “White Christmas”, or even “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” were religious.  I was wrong.  These are deeply spiritual movies that touch on timeless Christian themes such as tree decorating and air-rifles.  I will keep that in mind while watching.  Shown here is a scene illustrating how God rewards the holy.

it-s-a-major-award-i-won-o

I offer up this public apology to make up for my years of atrocities. If you want to find me, I’ll be baking butter cookies and watching “A Christmas Story”.  And, to all my blogging friends, a very Merry Christmas!