"Melancholy, but pretty and hopeful at the same time."
That's a good way to sum up my feelings about this time of year. I've had a love/hate relationship with Christmas for a long time. I love being with family, the home cooked meals, gifts, and what not. But a lot of the emotional baggage that seems to be delivered too, all dressed up in a red bow. I also hate the obligatory office parties that come up as well. If you don't go, you're looked down upon.'Thousand Sons? Oh, that guy. He didn't come to the Christmas party this year; he's not a team player.'
I used to love Christmas completely when I was younger, because none of the bitterness had tainted it yet. The turning point was probably the year my parents divorced. Suddenly the holidays were no longer a time of celebration, but Renaissance style plotting. O Machiavelli, forget Florence! Christmas season is where the real politics are!
Whom do you visit? Grandpa and grandma? Mom? Dad? Will someone feel slighted if you visit on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day? Does someone get relegated to a non-holiday day? Do you slip out early to visit another? Pair up with a partner that also has divorced parents and you've multiplied your woes tenfold!
Worse yet, if you have no one...
Despite all this, I still love this time of year. Why? Because I like my holidays how I like my chocolate: not syrupy sweet, but dark, rich, and somewhat bittersweet. Every year I pull out my cd of 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' and give it a listen. People tend to write off Charlie Brown and Peanuts because it's a kid thing, y'know, just a cartoon. But ol' Charles Schultz was a genius. You had to read between the lines but there was genuine emotion in Peanuts and a lot of it was dark. Attend you now, the words of Mr. Brown…
"Rats. Nobody sent me a Christmas card today. I almost wish there weren't a holiday season. I know nobody likes me, why do we have to have a holiday to emphasize it?"
"I just don't understand Christmas I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating the tree and stuff, but I'm still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed."
You could never make a TV special like this for kids now! Poor Charlie Brown would be force-fed Prozac or something! Like some people I know, Schultz hid his sadness behind humour, but that didn't make his work sad. It gave it a complexity, a richness that made it multi-dimensional, like jazz. Not the new age tootling of Kenny G,but the soulful work of Vince Guaraldi, the master.
His instrumental of 'Christmas Time Is Here' inspired this little vignette in me:
The jazz trio is playing. You remember the song from your distant childhood. It's a song about Christmas but it evoked a melancholy in your heart even as a kid. You look about the smoke filled cabaret. All these lonely souls here on Christmas Eve. Come in out of the rain and cold, enjoying human company at a distance. Oh, the sound of the piano! The notes, crystal clear, dancing in air.
You sip your scotch on the rocks, savoring the smokey flavor. Through your glass you see her. The brunette at the end of the bar. Do you know her? Maybe. Maybe no one really knows anyone. The bass grumbles and rumbles, you feel it in your soul. You flash back to your childhood briefly...through the sepia tone of your scotch haze...like a fever dream of color. That blue bike your old man gave to you all those years ago. Where is it now? Don't know. The session is winding up; you settle your tab with the man. You take one last drag off your cigarette, crush it out with authority. You put your overcoat on, ready to head out into the cold. You pause for a moment, looking at the denizens of this cabaret. Lonely like you, perhaps, but it was love of a kind that brought them here. Love of music, the need for companionship. Love is wonderful, no matter how small. "That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown," you murmur and head out the door into the night...
Along with the soulful ache there is also a beauty in jazz that is rare and wonderful. A magic that makes your eyes brim. This what made the marriage of ideas between Guaraldi and Schultz perfect. They were fellow travelers on the same Road….
So what is Christmas is really all about? In my opinion its not just about a day or trees or candy. It's the knowledge that no matter how bad it gets, how hard it is pushing that ol' rock up that hill, there is always beauty in the world. All year long. Like helping someone in need or sharing a laugh with a friend or finding a wildflower that grows up through the concrete.
Look for the beauty.
You'll find it.
And that is the greatest gift of all...
And together we'll celebrate forever
In defiance of the winds that blow
My God in heaven
now I feel like I'm seven
And spirit calls to me as well
As if Christmas had made the winter warmer
Made a paradise from what was hell
As if a cold and frozen soul is warm to love
By loves own hand
So goes the prayer if for a day
Peace on earth
And good will to man.......