Monday, December 19, 2011

The Dark And Light Side Of Christmas

There's a scene early on in Cameron Crowe's modern day classic "Say Anything," where John Cusack and his sister Joan, playing brother and sister in the film, have a short but meaningful bit of an argument. Joan's character seems to be whining and complaining about minor everyday irritations, and continues by taking some of her hostility out on her brother.  He asks her, "How hard is it to get in a good mood?" He continues with, "I'm sorry Tim left you, but I am not Tim. You were hilarious once."

How hard is it to get in a good mood? I won't go against type here when I say, a good bouncy version of "Silver Bells" isn't always enough. I have a friend who was "hilarious once." Still is, actually. But not this week. Not any week where Christmas is involved.

Every year I see friends and family getting pushed to the edge while trying desperately to display what we've come to understand as necessary behavior for the Christmas holidays. They try to muster an acceptable attitude, when deep in their hearts, they'd like nothing more than to not be pressured or guilted into spending money, having to be somewhere, or suddenly having to wear some cheek-spraining grin because some Clydesdales are galloping through the snow. This Christmas, I'd love to see those who feel it, to feel it with all their hearts. And those that don't, to be given a free pass. Sometimes, you just don't feel it. It's not a crime, and no one should be made to feel that it is.

I used to have some fantastic Christmases. Most were before I was 25 years old. Most were before I didn't have a care in the world. But as you get older, your responsibilities change. And so do your priorities. And so do your feelings. Christmas is really not the "most wonderful time of the year." It's the most "unforgiving stretch of pressure and must-dos" that inevitably make the broke broker.

What bothers me most is, for the rest of the year, the same friends and family who have such a hard time with the holidays, seem to handle their daily hardships like kings and queens. They live life day to day, and if you forgive the phrase, often make lemonade with their lemons. Why? No one expects as much from others in March or August.

Now the title does say "dark and light side."

I've eaten some great meals on Christmas Eve. I've had some amazing laughs on New Year's Eve. New Year's Day will find me once again, plunging into the ocean with the Polar Bears on Coney Island. I don't hate Christmas music. While I do hate Mariah Carey, there are few Christmas songs that make me as happy as her's does. I love seeing friends and family. It really can be okay. But I've also experienced first hand, family members crying over getting the wrong gift, or saying things like, "Did you really think I'd wear this?"

One year, when asked what I wanted for Christmas, I replied, "I don't care. It's not about that. Whatever. Nothing is fine." I won't reveal who asked me, but this was her reply, "What's wrong with you? Can't you make this easy for me?" To avoid a holiday smackdown, I simply said, "A new Yankees cap. That should be easy enough." Christmas Eve, I opened my box, and it was a Mets cap.  I couldn't help my reaction. I'm sure my face changed just a bit,  but I said, "Wow. This is great. Thank you." "What's wrong," she asked, "you made a face." "Well," I said, " this is a Mets cap."


Merry Christmas to me.

Sure, this is one story out of thousands that we all can share in one capacity or another. The crazy Aunt who sends peanut brittle. The sister who hates hoop earrings. But, if we really want to experience Christmas spirit, my wish is to see people left to their own devices. Chances are, all will play out exactly as expected. I just don't find it helpful when I hear stories of people being told, "You have to buy these for my daughter. You said you would." My answer would be, "Buzz off! You have money. YOU buy them for your daughter. I'll buy what I can afford."

The holiday season can be a joyous time. But we should all remember those who may not be feeling as joyous. Their feelings are just as valid.

How hard is it to get in a good mood?

Not hard at all. Just live your life. As long as it's legal, whatever you want to do should be ok. And if you've got siblings, or kids, or close friends, or an aunt and uncle...if they are good people, they'll understand.

Merry Christmas. The music returns tomorrow.

(This was written for a friend, as much as it was written for me and all of you.)


Christine said...

Let me be the first to say (finally!) that I truly relate to your post, and I think it's important to remind people what the holiday is really supposed to be about, in written form, reaching out to lovers of your music blog, or in whatever creative or non-creative way, we can. I think it's almost our job to do that. (Oh no, not ANOTHER thing I have to do this week!) I'm sure your friend appreciates your taking out the time to write this, and of course, as always, LOVE your real life stories. Great post.

Merry Christmas, Sal.

buzzbabyjesus said...

For the last four years, I've taken a family portrait, put together a cd of Christmas music, made 50 copies, and mailed them to friends and family.
I think it was being in a supermarket before Thanksgiving, and hearing Christmas music that put me off this year.
Money is tight, and I resent being pressured into keeping big retail in business. It seems that this year the underlying desperation of our faltering economy is the only spirit there is.
My memory of most New Year's parties are me looking at my watch at 10:30 wondering how the f*ck I'm going to make it to midnight.
Evidently I'm not the only one who feels this way.
My daughter helped me put up the tree this year, and I constantly reminded myself not to ruin the experience for her in any way.
That's how I'm going to get through this holiday season.
And Sal, careful how you use "Buzz".

jayway said...

Thank you Sal. I needed this.

FD13NYC said...

I haven't had the Xmas spirit in a long time, just lost it, don't feel it. Over the years you lose people, to the mortal coil, nursing homes and moving away. There used to be nice family gatherings for The eve, the day and New Years eve, even Thanksgiving. But that was many years ago, it's all gone, as the years pass and you grow older. Now, it's just my wife, my Mother and I.

Now, as a doorman, the best thing about Xmas is waiting for the tenants of the building to give their envelopes (tips) for the year that you've spent slaving for them. Adding it into your yearly salary. Believe me, most of them are cheap so and so's.

The only dates that I have to remember now are (in order): Valentine's Day, my wife's birthday July 17th and especially, my anniversary Sept.9th, or my wife will kill me and feed my testicles to the wolves.

And there you have it. for those of you who are jolly around the holidays, good luck. For the rest of us we'll have to muddle through somehow.

Anonymous said...

well said, Sal


Eric said...

great writing , sal..... when u go off music u really bleed your heart on the page..happy holidays. es

Scott said...

Excellent post, Sal. I can truly relate to your observations. I worked in retail for 30 years and never got to really enjoy Christmas.
Bombarded with daily crappy Christmas music and surly shoppers, it took all the meaning out of the holiday. I'm no big believer, but I was always relieved when it was over.
This year, I am unemployed, and for the first time in 30 years, I am actually enjoying Christmas. I find myself smiling as I push my buggy down the aisle, to myself and other shoppers. It's the only time I have not been depressed about being unemployed.
Thank you, Sal. Thanks for coming back and thanks for bring here to guide my musical spirit. If I wanna know what crap is being released, I go to RS. If I wanna know the good stuff, I come here.
Oh, and, Merry Christmas!


kevin m said...

Spot on Sal.

Anonymous said...

I have to tell you this hits it on the head. I haven't been depressed this Christmas season, just not into the whole thing. It's increasingly like that as the kids have grown. We still do all the traditions that we started when they were young (it's weird how they still have to do things the same way...even at 21 and 17 as they did as little ones) but my heart just isn't in it.

FD13NYC...the sense of loss really is felt this time of year. As we get older our parents are passing and so are some of our friends. It always hits home especially hard right about now.

As far as NYE goes I don't think I've been up at midnight since my late 20's. I have always found it an especially sad night.

Oh well, my son is playing the Band's "Christmas Must Be Tonight" at the family service on Saturday evening. That should put a little more spring in my holiday step.

Merry Christmas Sal! Glad you decided to continue the's a great gift.


ronh said...

I read Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd columns for their snark and their humor. I'm glad this blog continues because I value your voice for its reason, honesty, and sincerity. This post is a great example of that. Thanks for the illustration of how this season can be an opportunity to elevate our behavior to each other and show true compassion. Best wishes always.

elizabeth said...

Music was the original reason I started reading Burning Wood, but your writing is what brings me back. Many good comments here today also, each striking a chord. The feeling of loss and melancholy can be overwhelming although I am lucky enough to have this be the time when most of my immediate family can and still does gather together.
Merry Christmas to you Sal, and all the Burning Wood community.

charlie c. said...

Nice. 1) That photo alone got me in a good mood. 2) Do you really do the Polar Bear thing? 3) Let's go Mets.