Saturday, December 25, 2004
11:19 PM |
A Small Christmas
Of course, Virginia. There is no Santa Claus.
You soon grow up, you see. It is not a bad thing, this revelation -- but it is sad: it is, after all, a kind of mortality for Wonder. This is the very moment when you begin to see the world with completely different eyes. The world begins to shrink, and you begin the subtle process of coping with so much that holds this unexpected gravity. You will call it adolescence. You soon learn the various "truths" behind the fervent holiday myth-making, among other things. You are about nine years old now, or ten, maybe even eight; and you suspect things are really not what the adults tell you they are.
When your mother reads 'Twas the Night Before Christmas
, for example, you ask her about flying reindeers and the North Pole and chimneys. Sheer improbabilities in the tropical world you know.
"Teacher says we have, umm, gravity, Mama, and that the North Pole is very, very cold. And we have no chimneys, Mama," you tell her. You don't know anybody in Dumaguete who has a chimney.
"How can Santa give me presents if we don't have a chimney, Mama?"
She shusses you gently, and tells you Santa does not like questions like that. Questions like that are "naughty," she says. "And remember that Christmas song 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town'?"
You nod, and she prods you to sing it with her, "You better watch out, you better not cry... You better not pout, I'm telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town. He's making a list and checking it twice. Gonna find out who's naughty or nice, Santa Claus is coming to town."You grow up.
If you are like the rest of us, you will soon laugh it all away as a wonderful confection -- a silly, innocent joke -- but also with this deep knowing that the tale is something steeped in delicious sincerity and sacred tradition. You know you will share the same stories when you have children of your own. Santa Clauses, you begin to realize, take on semiotics of holiday cheer: he is part of a grammar that socializes us all into a society that needs such myths to sustain itself. Santa is no different from the mumo
hiding in the dark, an instrument of instilling fear, yes
, but also a means to quick discipline. Santa is shorthand for delivering quick, expectant joy, and the signifier of all Christmas stories rolled into one.You grow up
. And Christmas, of course, is forever changed for you -- if still hopeful, just because
. Soon it will no longer be about presents and Santa Clauses. You learn to put in their stead the importance of family gatherings, the calendar-mandated State of Joy. You grow up.
And then, sometime in your adult life, when you are about thirty, you also begin to tango with another doubt about the meaning of all these. You have coasted similar misgivings before. In college, you have learned to spout rhetoric: "Christmas is mere invention to sustain capitalist ends. It is blatant commercialism!" You sounded so deep, so intelligent, so romantically anti-Establishment; but that didn't stop you from buying your manita
her Christmas gift.
Sometimes, you remember those other moods, too, especially the spiritual ones: "Remember Christ
mas," you tell everybody. It is an earnest, wonderful certainty, complete with acts of waking up nine mornings straight to attend Simbang Gabi. Sometimes, you gurgle with such delight, volunteering to tell the Christmas story to a bunch of needy kids, or soliciting white gifts for the homeless. "Remember Christ in Christmas,"
but that didn't stop you from secretly pouting when all you got from your manito
was a damn pair of cheap, white socks.
What is the meaning of all these? You look back, and the Christmases past seem so much more glorious, so much more meaningful, and so much more rendered in joyful colors. The noche buenas
then seemed more bountiful, the reunions more congenial, the joy infinite. The Christmas trees in the past seemed taller, the fireworks seemed more deafening. This Christmas is too hot
, you might think. When I was younger, I remember wearing sweaters this time of the year.
What happened? Have we lost the capacity to celebrate? Is this really Krisis
-mas? But perhaps it is the pregnancy of all these expectations of joy. It is so high, that all efforts become a recipe for disappointment. And then you soon gripe for having not met expectation, and you hate yourself for it. It is a vicious cycle.
Then, of course, you finally begin to believe in the certainty that, whether you like it or not, Christmas is something for children. For them, it is pure, uncontaminated by adult wants. But this is a slow realization, and getting there is burdened by our efforts to exert impossible semblances of childhood happiness even to our living the graying years. Sooner or later, much of our exertions lose meaning despite our good intentions and sincere expectations.
Now, tell yourself this: Christmas will never be the same as it was when you were nine and Christmas trees were majestic in their tall greenness and their burden of tinsels and gifts.
Because, somehow, we lose that ability to see as a nine year old might: all the world an innocent, sprawling landscape of possibilities, and everything in it equally big, equally awesome, equally grandiose. That's why our memories are always big and grand and somehow adventurously intimidating -- but the confronting reality a let-down. It is the same metaphysics that dictate when you return to your old elementary school, and everything has shrunk. We grew up.
One truth, I think, becomes this: it is okay to embrace the smallness of festivities. It is the adult way to be. Take it from a Judy Garland song. Have yourself a merry little
Christmas. And let your heart be light.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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