Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or *insert year-end cultural/religious celebration here*) is one of those odd times of year when families reconvene, shower each other with stuff, and share warm fuzzies. When you look past all of the consumerist bullshit and think about how people expect to come together at year end, year in and year out, it’s really an amazing phenomenon.
You watch each year as people mill around the revolving door of family. New people are introduced, children are born and elders pass away. Little people grow and become accustomed to their family’s holiday traditions. They begin to expect that Christmas will in fact occur year after year. If families are mountains of adults, children begin to gain footholds in their families through the act of receiving gifts, and anticipating the reception of gifts at Christmas. At these gatherings, adults find a place to sit on the sidelines as children execute what is essentially the moment their parents have been building toward in the weeks prior. It is a place to showcase the year’s prosperity or lack thereof, it is a place to reinforce notions of who you are as a group, and it’s a time to more closely consider your own family’s dynamics, and how both adults and children are groomed to respond to the holiday through the years.
My family probably hasn’t filmed a Christmas home video since sometime in the early 1990s, but it’s fascinating to watch groups of related people coming together to participate in this big orchestrated, cultural thing. It’s like glue, or an annual check-up. Christmas keeps the dogeared corners of the family photo from snapping off completely. You may have had confrontations with certain people in the room over the course of the year, but if you are there at Christmas, those things may be temporarily overlooked for the sake of togetherness and cohesion.
People evolve inside of the holiday from one understanding of Christmas to another. From the inside of the festivities to the outside. In childhood, they are the conductors of Christmas, the celebratory centerpiece of the moment. Christmas is a celebration of children. Then, they may pass through a phase somewhere between adolescence and adulthood where Christmas can seem a rather alienating affair. Somewhere between the spotlight and the sidelines are idle stares from nonchalant faces. As adults, they’ll indulge the children they’ve produced in hopes of perpetuating that feeling of being a star. The star, or more generally, the light is a theme (the Star of Bethlehem, the star atop the tree, the Festival of Lights, the shining beacons of young human beings, of messengers and saviors, of survival and sustenance, the will to trek forward and carry on) is a theme of the holiday. It’s essentially about futures. About children. And then, in later adulthood there are the family members who, in disability, old age and/or ill-health, are removed even from the sidelines and spend the holidays in hospitals and nursing homes.
After my brother (1984) and myself (1988), our next youngest family member was born in 1997. Her younger brother came five days before Christmas 2001, and the youngest member of our family was born in 2007. Our teenaged cousins remained silent and detached for most of this year’s family gathering. But Kennedy Grace, who is now 4, has been the star of the show for the 3rd year in a row. She’s excited. She knows what it means. She represents the continuation of family, “the ongoing wow” (as Speed Levitch might put it). We are constantly amazed at our ability to carry on year after year, and to bring new individuals into this whole experience of being alive. On the way home from this year’s Christmas festivities at my cousin’s house, I began to think about the future of our family. Where will the young people beneath us end up? Will they progress like my brother and I into a general lack of direction or face depression in their early adulthood? How will they feel at future Christmas gatherings? These are the things that matter to one’s experience of Christmas, or of life in general.
I wondered if I would even be around at future Christmases. I’ve already progressed to the sidelines, but in more ways than one. I wondered if I would even be alive. I’m not ready for Christmas to continue happening year after year. To me, it almost means something sinister. Perhaps that is just because I am not in a good place emotionally. Post-celebration, I spent much of Christmas night crying. On the way home, this enormous wave of fear overtook me. Fear of the future. Fear of my relationship to family. Fear of the repeated occurrence of Christmas each year. Fear of the bad feelings I am developing in reference to it. Fear of being alive for years to come.