It’s just after Veterans’ Day, and we’ve already put up some Christmas lights. Don’t @ me. (Or do!)
It’s to be expected, though. Tradition might dictate “wait until after Thanksgiving” or some other milestone, but that would mean listening to tradition. And to put it simply, I have a complicated relationship with the Christmas season.
A decent part of it is most definitely my last name. Everyone—from playground bullies when I was younger to amused cashiers just the other day—has thoughts about my surname of “Snowman” that they are oh-so-eager to share. I’ve had to disabuse family members of the idea that the appropriate gifts for the holiday are snowman-themed tchotchkes… every. single. year.
Being a lapsed Catholic provides a reflective outlook. Christmas as a kid was a holiday but never one that we celebrated with any intensely religious zeal. After my parents’ divorce, it became a mirror image of itself: now with twice as many trees and stockings! As I grew up, I moved further away from what religious upbringing I had, so Christmas became less about a celebration of faith and more about spending time with family. As the annual discussion about the “War on the Holidays” rears its stupid and pithy head, I every so often find myself disgusted about how the birth of the Christian Savior became so intertwined with politics and what it means to be civil to each other in public.
These days, the holiday is not so much about family, though.
My husband and I are on our own as adults. We moved to Southern California 10 years ago, a whole America apart from the East Coast where our families live. Traveling to see them is easier said than done, these days; while we call or FaceTime to stay in touch with everyone, he and I spend the day very much only in each others’ company.
Of course, living in SoCal has its own influence. As a kid growing up in Baltimore County, Maryland, Christmas and its surrounding weeks were a crapshoot. Sometimes we’d get blizzards, sometimes we’d only see one flurry all season. The winter months weren’t always frozen over, but they were at least dependably crisp and clean in the mornings, the grass peppered with sparkles of frost that you knew would crunch as you strayed from the sidewalk. The smell of wood fires permeated the air. Most of the time if you exhaled through your mouth you’d get a decent puff of vapor.
But here in suburban SoCal, winter brings no changes to weather or scenery.
The palm trees stay ever tall and vigilant, neither dropping their leaves nor changing their hues; fireplaces are decorative instead of functional. Year-long balmy weather means there is a distinct lack of seasonality that makes celebrating the Christmas holiday just a little off-kilter.
There are no boughs of pine with which to fashion wreaths. There are no steaming mugs of cocoa to warm your hands and your insides. (You can buy a cup from Starbucks, but don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s to help you come in from the cold.) The only indications that we’re approaching winter are the calendar on the wall and twilight at 5:00. Switching back from Daylight Saving Time the other week completed the transition to what feels like our only ‘season’ out here: dark.
These early nights definitely hit hard in a land of eternal sunshine where clouds never mar the sky. But this year, we took a stand: come over to our place and you’ll see some Christmas lights up on our wall, a small bit of color to drive away the darkness. Absent frost, family and faith, maybe I’m just readopting the very original meaning of Christmas as a celebration of light and renewal.
I think we can use a bit more of that these days, even if it does seem a little early.