I used to have a fantasy where I had a sledge-hammer and a glass house to smash to the ground. Demolition is my favorite stage of the construction project. We hired help to finish our basement, but the demo was all mine—taking a crowbar to our wood paneling, prying loose sideboards with the backside of a hammer, or kicking up old tile with a chisel and mallet.
I think it’s the demolition expert in me that despises Christmas. The one who wants to clean up the wrapping paper as fast as my four-year old can fling it free from its folds. The one who can turn the radio dial from that incessant merry merry caroling crap. The one who hauls our Douglas Fir to its sacrificial place on the curb.
My wife would leave the lights up all spring, sip cocoa by the fire in July. I’m the one who goes on rants about how obnoxious our commercial Christmas has become. Did you know that when Saint Nicholas was a Bishop, he was imprisoned for slapping another bishop who denied Jesus’ divinity? How ironic that this man is now a secular icon, using magic to drive the most important economic season of the year. I like to make things right in my mind, imagining the real Saint Nicholas slapping the shit out of the jolly St. Nick we’ve come to embrace.
My favorite part of the holiday is the Christmas Eve service, singing “Silent Night” with the sanctuary filled with candles we lit for each other. Now that’s a feeling of peace, of a moving spirit. But then there’s my son, my daughter, my wife. There’s pajamas and warm coffee. There’s the exchange of gifts, of Christmas cards. And yes, at our house, there is always Johnny Mathis. And there’s the swell of gratitude in the realization that in a world so harshly divided between the haves and the have-nots, we have all that we ever need. Why would I want to tear it down?
That is the question I’ve been asking myself this holiday season. I find great comfort in meetings this time of year, there being a lot of folks hell bent on destruction like me. But, I haven’t found the answer.
My first Christmas clean and sober I spent away from my family. I was at an after-care facility called Gray Wolf Ranch. A sober living facility for young addicts. We didn’t have many gifts to exchange. Imagine a group of young men, early 20s, working to buy packs of smokes and pizza on the weekends, putting thought into their gift giving. But still, that night, I received the greatest gift I have ever received on Christmas.
We sat in a circle for our weekly gratitude share, each volunteering a list of the things he was grateful for. After an adolescence of wanting to get away from all the suffocating togetherness of the holiday, all I could think about was my family. It’s the way it goes. If you want to discover how grateful you are for something, try living without it for a while.
I was relieved that we dimmed the lights for the sharing. I hid in the hood of my sweatshirt when the tears came. But, I said “I am grateful for” and rattled off each and every name. I felt a longing for all that was in front of me if I ever cared to look.
And that’s all the miracle of the mundane is. It is what is when we clear away what isn’t.
Then came yesterday morning. Christmas. Our own brand of Christmas with its unique traditions. My son sat in awe of the partially eaten cookie on Santa’s plate; my daughter scarfed down three pancakes; my wife glowed to see the culmination of all her Christmas prep.
And I was there for every minute of it.