I’m a basic Bah, Humbug Christmas person and have been for years. I’m not clinically depressed during the holiday season, but neither am I joyful. I resist the pressure to shop ‘til I drop, but that isn’t limited to a particular time of the year, either. I’m considering the possibility I may suffer from borderline Scrooge disorder or at a minimum, Holiday Harrumphs.
This year is different. I’ve been jolted and shaken out of my cynicism and once again believe in the magic that is Christmas. I think my transformation actually began last year when my new neighbors in Texas on Worsham Street decorated their homes and yards with spectacular exterior holiday lighting. They adorned trees, bushes, windows, doors, porches, benches, roofs – anything they could find to attach a string of lights – and the little street came alive with white icicle lights and plain white lights and multi-colored lights of all shapes and sizes that glowed and blinked and gave the appearance of a miniature Disneyland. I absolutely loved them and of course, I had to participate with my own lights on our house on the street. I felt my Christmas ice melt just a little each time I turned the switch that lit my bright lights. This year the street is again beautiful, and I thank my neighbors for the inspiration of their lighting traditions.
I miss my family at Christmas, the family that defined Christmas for me as a child. That family is gone as that time and place are gone, but the child inside me mourns their loss every time I hear “Silent Night” and other carols sung during this time of the year. We were musical people and much of our holiday revolved around music in our Southern Baptist churches where my mother was always responsible for the Christmas Cantata. Sometimes she played the piano for it so my dad could lead the church choir and sometimes she drafted another pianist so she could lead the choir herself. Regardless, music was the reason for the season for us and we celebrated the season in church.
Family has been re-defined in my adult life by my wife and four children in furry suits that I adore. I have a son who now has a girlfriend he lives with and so our family grows together. Through the past forty years I’ve been away from Texas I’ve been fortunate to have wonderful friends who have become closer than the DNA-linked group I left behind. In my gay and lesbian community in South Carolina, the term “family” is a word we use to describe ourselves. The question, “Do you think she’s family?” is translated, “Do you think she’s a lesbian like us?” Being part of a marginalized sub-culture creates strong bonds within that environment and my friends have been simply the best.
Coming home to Texas to live has connected me once again with my DNA family and that’s been an incredible experience and part of the magic of Christmas for me the last two years. First cousins, second cousins, third cousins once removed and the people they’ve married and their children are good, and a few questionable, surprises for me. Gathering for a cousins’ Christmas potluck luncheon or going with cousins to the Montgomery Annual Cookie Walk or having cousins come to our home or visiting in their homes rekindle good memories of the times when our hair wasn’t white and our figures were slimmer and the great-grandparents at the table weren’t us. I see these relatives and I am a part of them, and I feel good to belong to them at Christmas. Our conversations honor and celebrate our heritage and the ones who are no longer with us. We laugh and cry together because we are moved by our memories. My family is a Christmas gift.
But just as the familiar story goes of the Wise Men who followed a bright light to Bethlehem and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby boy in the manger, Wise Women in my life have brought gifts that rocked my Christmas complacency. My wife surprised me with an early gift at Thanksgiving when I went home to her in South Carolina. It’s worth its weight in gold to me. It’s a western saddle made of leather and rides a wooden quilt holder that a Worsham Street neighbor gave me when she saw the saddle. It’s a perfect combination and looks good in my Texas den underneath a picture of a cowboy sitting on a fence. Whenever I look at the saddle, I think of two of my favorite things: my wife who knew me well enough to buy this treasure for me and my days of riding horses as a child. I feel the love of the giver of this perfect gift.
Frankincense was used in ancient times for medicinal and calming purposes including treatment for depression. Burning frankincense was also thought to carry prayers to heaven by people in those days. One of the Wise Women in my life gave me my own version of frankincense last week when she bought a plane ticket to South Carolina for me to be with my wife for Christmas. I marvel at this generosity from a friend who surely loves me and who chased away the potential Christmas blues. This gift came from prayers to heaven that were unasked but answered on the wings of a snow white dove called US Airways and the spirit that is the magic of Christmas in the heart of my friend.
Myrrh is an Arabic word for bitter and it is the resin that comes from a tree that grows in the semi-desert regions of Africa and the Red Sea. The Chinese used it for centuries to treat wounds and bruises and bleeding. The Egyptians used myrrh as an embalming oil for their mummies. Yesterday I received another gift that reminded me of myrrh – not the bitterness nor the embalming properties – but the unexpected present was a live blooming cactus plant that arrived at my house via a congenial UPS driver who I believe thinks he is Santa Claus. When I opened the box and removed the moss packing per the enclosed instructions, I was stunned by the beauty of the pink blooms and the deep rich green of the plant. The gift came from another Wise Woman who is married to my cousin in Rosenberg, Texas and was an additional reminder of the magic that lives in Christmas. Every day I’ll see these blooms and think of my cousins who sent them and the healing power beauty affords us when we take a moment to consider it. I’ve always loved a Christmas cactus.
Gold, frankincense and myrrh with a 21st century twist. The Christmas story of Mary and Joseph’s plight in the manger in Bethlehem has been told and re-told for thousands of years. Regardless of your belief, it is a tender tale of a family who welcomes a baby boy into a world of conflict and hardship and hopes he will somehow change it for the better. The same conflicts continue two thousand years later and hardships of every shape and description plague our families today, but we move on. Sometimes forward, sometimes backward. But onward we go. And in this spirit of hope for a better world where peace becomes the norm and hardships are made more bearable, I abandon my Bah, Humbug with a Merry Christmas to all!
(Note: this post was published originally in December, 2011)
picking just the right cookies at the Christmas Cookie Walk