Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cold Winter Evenings

As a consequence of staying up late last night and celebrating the end of the semester, I find myself sitting on the computer at 12:33 in the am without a lick of tiredness on my airwaves. Sitting in front of the computer I mean, it is in fact young Birdy who has tried several times to sit on the computer. The living room/kitchen stretches out in front of me on three sides, the space a product of two lives joined together for the past several years. Lights festoon the dying evergreen erected near the deck doors and glow with the bright pointy blur that tells me my glasses are lying folded on some end table. One cat snoozes prone on a red armchair, one cat is out of sight, two cats with long hair lie together curled like furry presents on the Christmas tree's skirt. I thought pets were bad, but now we're dressing up trees?

I am being critical, but really I love the minor transformations of living space that accompany the holiday season in my dear Mommy's house. I feel blessed to have somewhere I can retreat to during the winter break between semesters, this being the last of my undergraduate studies. cookie dough sits in the fridge, the santa placemats are on the table (used for approximately 3 weeks of the year), the impressive array of nutcrackers stoically gaze ahead into nothing from their perch on the wood hutch, a motley cast of frozen figurines stand arranged on the mantelpiece around a baby figurine in a crib, 5 stockings of different green red and white designs hang on hooks besides the fireplace.

the traditions of this time of the year seem untouchable, and the fun comes from their enduring presence. before i go to bed, I will go around and turn off each window candle. even though people gripe about christmas shopping, and spending time with family, and cooking all sorts of delicious food, we clearly still go through the motions. there is some value that these traditions provide for us, otherwise we would cease to uphold them. whatever the value you get, it is still fun to examine critically these certain annual behaviors that we engage in.

for some people the only value might be the presents they receive. It is unfortunate that for some christmas has become nothing more than a time to get new stuff (that you may or may not need/like), though I would be lying if I said I don't look forward to that part of the holidays. If not, what kind of American would I be? Christmas is the biggest time of the year for most retailers, probably the biggest and most successful shopping campaign of manufactured demand ever created. our economy is fueled by the volume of stuff we consume, and we have to go through a lot of it to keep the machine satisfied. I spent probably two hundred dollars in the past 2 weeks on christmas gifts. how much of that stuff will be used and appreciated by the people I love? there are all sorts of economic studies that conclude that Christmas represents a deadweight loss of some several billion dollars, maybe 10, maybe more, because so much of what is purchased does not end up being used or valued commensurate to its cost. probably half the shit is lost, broken, or discarded before the new year, or we relegate it to that pile in the corner of the room to collect dust. the perfect gift is a rare thing, especially for people who have alreayd satisfied all of their basic needs. if we really want to be efficient, we should take the money we were going to spend on someone's gifts and hand it to them in an envelope with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. BUT, all of the money that is spent goes to sustain the economy, and we must do our patriotic duty as Americans to buy things, amass, consume, discard, repeat.

I am not saying that all christmas gifts are worthless, or that we should stop giving gifts, or that I don't love christmas. I am proposing an invigoration of common sense during the holiday season, maybe a suggested limit on the # of gifts, and a re-affirmation of the season's value and purpose, which is not to fill out corporations' 4th quarter profit margins: a celebration of light and joy to carry people through the long cold winter, to look forward to the coming warmth and change of seasons, to reflect on the changing year and the passing of time, to spend time with family and friends and share with them food, drink, and gifts, all of these things and more are part of what value I find in Christmas.

To me it is about making sushi with Mommy, a tradition we probably started when I was in 8th grade, and waking up early to peek at the wonderous packages that had miraculously assembled themselves around the tree during the night and opening stockings with Allan, a tradition we probably started when we were old enough to walk. It is about the christmas morning breakfast of whole wheat cinnamon rolls topped with buttery brown sugar, the scrambled eggs, the bacon, the sliced rounds of orange. It is about spending Christmas eve with Anna, Jennifer, and Eugene.

It is about family, first and foremost for me, and I dont plan on changing that any time soon. It makes me sad that my Papa is away for this whole break, and he will be sorely missed. We did get to hold a little goodbye evening for him, me, Allan, and Lois, last friday, to see him off for three and a half weeks working on Hausa teaching materials in Niamey, Niger. It was a lovely time, eating chiebou thienn (Senegalese fish and rice dish) with fried plantains, drinking adult egg nog, and sharing gifts and music in the living room of 511 Main street. It felt like an alternative condensed christmas, a fun change. It goes to show that the exact recipe for christmas at home will change, but it doesn't matter as long as the formula of family, food, (gifts) and fun remains. like I said, I am a sucker for the gift part; its only the buying part that I hate. [it is hard to beat the thoughtfulness of a good gift.] but that is more of an aversion to spending money, something I will never get over. I never developed my consumer genes, must be some weird mutation. I get physically uncomfortable after spending too long in a walmart/kmart/similar shopping experience, and a mall is the last place I want to go hang out in.

I still buy stuff, of course, it is just that I don't like to. No matter, I have come to recognize that it is a sticky situation that I will be dealing with for the rest of my life.

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