Friday, December 12, 2008

A Pagan in Christmas Land

I negotiated three boroughs yesterday in the freezing pouring rain, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, then finally Brooklyn. When I heard the weather report the night before, I thought; oh shit that is my fourteen hour day, and then I thought, well you're a New Yorker. and it's true I got the all gear; the boots, umbrella, bookbag, handbag, water bottle, umbrella, plastic bag to wrap the umbrella when its dripping wet, gloves, scarf and gigantic fur hat (which is both aesthetically pleasing to me and practical). Still though manipulating and maneuvering all that gear takes it toll. When I arrived home at eight o'clock, my feet were soaking, my jeans were soaking, my hands were freezing but aha there was a package waiting for me when I entered my foyer. I saw that it was from my sister in California so I opened it up immediately because I knew there would be chocolate and I had already decided that I would eat all of it. However! It was a live miniature Christmas tree with a miniature string of white lights and a small box of tiny wooden ornaments. I set it up, strung the lights, hung the ornaments. I haven't had a Christmas tree in my home for ten or eleven years. I've gradually moved away from the traditional celebration of this holiday.

I boycotted Christmas for a long time--- one day about ten years ago I was frantically addressing Christmas cards, buying gifts, wrapping, mailing, almost in tears, when I said, no. I can't do this anymore. I was in such a state of anxiety; where we going to have dinner, what were we going to have for dinner, who was coming, who wasn't coming, how can I get my house cleaned in time, where are the Christmas ornaments, how come I haven't heard from so and so, what if I don't get the cards out in time. I walked away from it. The next year I was newly single. I bought tickets for a concert at Carnegie Hall on Christmas Eve. I was alone. When I came home, I ordered in Chinese, and watched The Misfits. Love, love, love the diaphanous Marilyn Monroe, the craggy wounded soul that is Clark Gable, the story of the mustangs. The next day I went to brunch in the East Village. I look back on that Christmas as one of the nicest I've ever had. I like attaching the winter solstice to the celebration since that is the origin of the myth. Many years I only celebrated the Solstice. I would take a ritual bath (sea salts, candles) roast a chicken, clean my house, light more candles, and go out at the moment of twilight. One year, my brother flew in, his daughter arrived, and we went out for dim sum with my younger brother's girlfriend, Asian, and her friend who was assistant to Madame Chang Kai Shek. After dim sum in Chinatown, we went ice skating at Chelsea Piers, had hot chocolate in the Village. I love how the city feels like a ghost town. I feel like it only belongs to me.

But I do like my Christmas tree. It inspired me to buy more lights which I wrapped around my bookcase. I need to keep myth and ritual in my life, I think we all do. I like that I have found a way to reconcile the more mercenary aspects of Christmas with the older story. I never went back to mailing out Christmas cards. I buy presents the day before. If that isn't practical I send flowers 72 hours before. I still remember all the lyrics to the Polish Christmas carols that I learned as a child. I remember my grandfather wearing a Santa hat, and my grandmother in her apron cooking ham, turkey, kielbasa, cabbage, potatoes, stuffing, gravy and apple pies. I remember the dining room table at their home, with the gallon jug of J. Bavet (brandy) as the centerpiece.


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