"Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy"
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
Journey of the Magi
T. S. Eliot
Christmas it's said, in seasonal lore, summons up our inner child. And sometimes it does: not just the excited one with "eyes full of tinsel and fire," but also the cranky one, in the back seat, who wants to know if we're there yet and why not.
We have often been lectured to on the virtues of the destination versus the journey. But when the journey is arduous enough, it's easy to forget about the destination almost altogether. As well as its meaning and its importance. You may not be fully focused on what you're supposed to do when you get there.
The Christmas season may or may not make you a better person. It should certainly make you a different one.
T.S. Eliot's Magi got caught up in their journey. There is an adage from one of the poet's other works that says: "To make a beginning is to make an end." If we are to take to heart the true message of Christ and of Christmas, then we must agree to leave some part of our old familiar ways behind. The original event was transformative, and so should be each reenactment.
Such seismic change can be taxing, even uncomfortable both consciously and sub-consciously. In fact, most of us don't make any serious personal transition at Christmas much past the season itself, more than a few of us not even for a day. We're too, too busy arriving.
We're like the Magi. When they finally got where they were going, no doubt with considerable pride in their achievement, surely they came to realize, with some degree of unanticipated shock, that their lives up until then would probably be inadequate for meeting the psychological and spiritual rigor the real spirit of this seminal moment would engender.
"Well, something's lost and something's gained in living every day," in the soothing words of the noted Canadian religious philosopher Joni Mitchell.
Their journey ended and possessed of a new set of realities, truths and aspirations, the Magi went back home feeling strangely lonely and at odds with themselves and discontented with the lives they left back there, Eliot says.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
We've come through a lot in this fast-passing year. We don't really know yet where this is taking us. But now that we've got this far, we must surely realize that we've arrived at a different time, and a different us. And a different place. We've left where we were forever. There really isn't anything to get back to. "Advent" is church talk meaning "Get Ready." Ah, but this time for what?
It may seem a little far-fetched right now, but it could be we just observed our last Christmas, or our first one, depending on how you look at it.
No matter, it was a cold coming, indeed, we had of it down on the Panhandle this year. In the 30s Christmas Eve, and never got above the low 40s all day Christmas—and felt colder than that, although it was sunny and bright.
No church because of the virus, and no Christmas run because of the cold. Same rituals otherwise. A big Christmas Eve dinner, a noon brunch of eggs, hash browns and wine on Christmas Day after ripping open presents.
Then, a lazy afternoon of random TV shows, including football, carols at the Alexa, and a plethora of board and card games that old people had never heard of and didn't know how to play utilizing instruction cards printed in type too small for old people to read.
Then, turkey, trimmings and wine for dinner.
What was new this year was that we did it all at Sarah and Derrick's, down in Navarre (down hard by the Gulf).
Another big difference this year was no Tracey. She drew holiday duty at the foster home where she's a care provider to teenage girls. A sleep-over job, four days a week including, this year, Christmas both Eve and Day. Dad drove home Christmas night to feed the cat, and picked Tracey up for a two-hour pass she got to come home for a quick Christmas visit, a plate of food and a chance to ransack her stocking.
Took her back around 10:30 pm. Her Christmas Morning will be Sunday when she gets off work, at 8 am. The whole crowd will caravan inland up to Milton for more present-opening and a repeat of Christmas brunch and more wine. A combination of "A Movable Feast" and "The Gift that Keeps on Giving." New Year's will be a more staid, and less elongated, affair.
Hope your Christmas was Merry and uncomplicated. Still, a good time was had by all. And will continue so for another couple of days at least. Then, it's back to what passes for normal in these times. See the way the old year passes.
This year's Christmas Song Selection
"Merry Xmas Everybody," by British rock band Slade, released as a non-album single in 1973. It was the band's sixth and final number-one single in the UK. Released at the peak of the band's popularity, "Merry Xmas Everybody" sold over a million copies upon its first release. It has been released during every decade since 1973. In December 2012, "Merry Xmas Everybody" was voted third (behind "Fairytale of New York" and "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday") in The Nation's Favourite Christmas Song, an award-winning British TV documentary series.
Slowest start in nine years. COVID, no doubt. Good turnout, bad mood. Lots of "wait and see" in that big yellow patch. The stock market looks farther ahead. Although today it was probably looking at the jobless report and not liking the look of that. The FDA experts panel recommended approving the virus, but the market had already closed. Mabye we'll be looking farther ahead in the morning. Although as Ben Franklin quipped on exiting his doctor's office: "A vacine, if you can find it!" Like the president likes to say, we'll see.
A little better, but definitely not feeling the burn yet. The market's testing new highs, a second vaccine is on the way, and the election seems at last settled. But Christmas Spirit Index voters persist in being "glass is half-empty" kind of people. Still ten days to finish that glass and order another.
It doesn't take a statistical wonk to conclude there's just not an overabundance of "Joy to the World" in the public consciousness this Christmas season. The top category in this index this close to Christmas often accounts for almost half of all votes. Right now it's running at about 15%. Much more mid-range votes than in most years. The balance of this week is going to need to inject an inordinate measure of really good news.
Well, not so bad, all things considered. At least the spirit grew from week to week, even if it did start out with a historically unenthusiastic response. Maybe it will continue to grow as the new year progresses. And be ready to roar when next Christmas rolls around. We live in hope.