Somewhere around the middle of December those awkward conversations that happen when one meets a casual acquaintance on the elevator start to stress me. I’m sure you know the conversations I’m taking about– the ones that normally revolve around the weather, and start with nice safe statements like “that was some wind yesterday” and “sure hope it warms up for the weekend.” I can manage a benign dialogue on these meteorological subjects for several floors without breaking a sweat. But I have come to realize that there is one elevator conversation-starter that I truly dread.
“Are you ready for Christmas?”
For some reason I feel like I am supposed to provide an actual answer to this question, rather than the usual meaningless elevator small talk. I think way too hard about my response, mentally kicking into overdrive as I silently review the status of my gift-shopping list and my pre-Christmas errand list and the to-do list on my desk of all the things I should really try to get done before I go on vacation. I generally blurt out a lame response like, “Almost.”
I wish I knew why I feel so pressured by this question. I know that the people asking it are just doing it to fill air space– that they don’t really care whether my gifts are all wrapped and my cookies all baked– that they aren’t really judging me on the basis of whether or not the tree is up and the lights hung.
Why then do I catch myself judging myself?
What does it really mean to be “ready” for Christmas? In the Anglican tradition in which I grew up, we spend four whole weeks of Advent getting ready for Christmas. Four weeks in which we light candles and reflect on the significance of the child whose birth we are celebrating. That is, if that is still what we are celebrating.
I admit to being one of those annoying people who starts Christmas shopping in August. I’m not a big fan of shopping in general, so If I can spread it out over a longer period it is less of a burden. Even so, I am almost always dashing out to pick up something at the last minute. This year in spite of carefully buying the various components of Christmas dinner for which I am responsible well ahead, I have still thought of one more thing I will have to go out and buy amidst the throngs of last-minute shoppers.
Even when I’m ready, I don’t feel ready.
I think it has something to do with the fact that the older I get, the more complicated Christmas gets for me– the more I understand that Christmas happens in spite of us. If you are sick or hurting, Christmas doesn’t wait until you feel better. If you are lonely or sad, Christmas doesn’t wait until you feel more like celebrating. Christmas doesn’t care if you are ready. It comes regardless. And, because we have imbued its coming with such significance, with such–dare I say it– baggage, its relentless determination to arrive on schedule despite our degree of readiness can make the things that weigh us down seem all the more weighty.
If you are grieving, the fact of Christmas can make the grief harder to bear. If you are alone, Christmas can be even lonelier. When you are low, there is nothing like the expectation that we will all be “merry” to make you feel even lower.
You know the song “We need a little Christmas?” It’s a mall and radio station favourite, because it screams Christmas without anything suspiciously religious like shepherds and stars. But do you know where the song originates? It’s actually from the Broadway musical Mame. The song comes at the point in the plot where everything has gone about as wrong at it can go. Auntie Mame has lost her job, and lost her fortune in the stock market crash. If you listen carefully to the lyrics, they aren’t exactly merry:
I’ve grown a little leaner Grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder
Grown a little older
Essentially the song is saying that we need a little Christmas to distract us from the fact that, at this precise moment in time, life sucks.
Since I started writing this post I have put the finishing touches on my 5-year old nephew’s made-to-order Darth Vader cape and reversible Indiana Jones vest. (Yes, I’m THAT aunt. Jealous?) I have wrapped my last gift. Aside from that one last grocery run, I am ready for Christmas.
And for me, at this point in time, life doesn’t entirely suck. But I know people– people I care about– for whom it does. And Christmas is coming whether they are ready for it or not.
That’s why I was delighted to come across a blogging initiative called C4C– which stands for Company for Christmas. You can read all about it here. It’s being managed this year by a terrific blogger who goes by the handle Rarasaur, and the premise is that bloggers volunteer to spend some time online on Christmas day so that other bloggers who are alone on Christmas have a community to interact with. I continue be amazed at the kinds of connections that happen in the blogsphere. Just when I start to get the cynical feeling that 99% of the blogs following mine are either spammers or out to enlist me in some pyramid scheme, something like C4C comes along and restores my faith in humanity.
Because when it comes right down to it, being ready for Christmas doesn’t really have anything to do with how many tins of cookies are stacked on the kitchen counter, or how overdrawn your bank account is. Remember the Whos down in Whoville? Even after the Grinch stripped their homes of all the gifts and treats and trappings of Christmas, they were still ready. Ready to hold hands and be a community that celebrates together even when times are tough. Now I’m ready.