Happy belated Holidays to everyone – hope y’all have had a great season filled with warm homes, good food, surrounded by good people. My apologies for being absent until now – between the holiday gig, fighting off a bug, and working on edits for a story I’ll have in an upcoming issue of The MacGuffin - I’ve had my hands full. Also, my apologies for back-tracking theme-wise a bit, but eh, it should be Christmas all year round, right?
While I love the ideals of this time of year – it brings out my inner five-year-old en force – December and I traditionally have a complicated relationship. If anything really weird and abrupt can happen to throw a wrench in my life patterns, it’ll happen in December. I wish I was even beginning to exaggerate, but it’s true. And we’re not just talking the sudden onset of icky-winter illnesses or weather problems or something breaking. We’re talkin’ weird. So far in my life I’ve been nearly mugged, nearly carjacked, had family members die, been knocked off the road into ditches, had monumental breakups, had bouts of illness that rival urban legends, and have been accidentally set on fire during a Christmas Eve service. Thankfully this didn’t all happen during the same year. But because of all this I tend to metaphorically hold my breath at least until December 26. This year has been relatively tame with only some technical glitches and misunderstandings (that were awkward and odd, but not out of the realms of being manageable).
Still, I’ve had to adapt what I want to get from the holidays. I grew up having my schedule jam-packed with school activities, community activities, family activities…and my family, wanting me to grow up to be a well-rounded person, used the weekends and break time to make sure I understood what it meant to help out the less fortunate by donating time and money in some way or another. Don’t get me wrong, I do think these experiences gave me a good perspective…but there was always so much going on, I tended to stop enjoying myself pretty early on in the month. And these days between the weird factor and holiday work, it does seem sometimes that while I’m really making other people’s months fun, there’s not a lot of time left to focus on my own. I’ve had to really work at simplifying. I like cooking, I love making presents – I spend much more time thinking about what to give others than what I actually want for Christmas – but I have learned that I can’t strive to do something for every person I’ve ever met in my life, or else I’d go sugar-plum crazy. Likewise, as I get older, I’ve been selective as to what I surround myself with. I like the decor of the season, I like some Christmas music, but if I were to surround myself with it all the day after Halloween (like the local radio stations try to force us commuters into doing) I would go bonkers.
So I do more cards now (though this year they’re turning into New Year greetings), and I make the things I hand craft count. I take time driving so I can oggle the lights in the local neighborhoods and admittedly I meander around the decoration and toy aisles to appease my inner kid-self. (Have no doubt, it’s torture to have to remind my inner kid self that I don’t need a Batgirl Barbie since I am a responsible adult now. Not only does that send my inner child into a tantrum, it kind of makes my soul bleed to realize the fact that I don’t need it.) And while I’ll admit that Lou Reed and Metallica don’t really qualify as Christmas music, I do have a few selections of holiday tunes that I love (The Star Wars Christmas Album, Sting’s If on a Winter’s Night, and a lot of odd things in between.) . And I catch the specials that still air and read boatloads of holiday stories all month long. My life isn’t complete without It’s a Wonderful Life – not only is it my favorite Christmas movie, it’s probably my favorite movie (or at least in the top five.) There’s something to be said of the message that there’s hope and that every person counts, no matter how small or mundane their role seems.
That’s a fact that I’ve learned first hand, and the memory is still very precious to me.
Years ago I was doing a one-person show as part of a holiday event – it was very kid and family oriented, and was something that I could do easily and well: a cutesy, slightly disgruntled elf who learned the true meaning of Christmas while involving the audience in a big giant sing-a-long. Some nights it was a blast, other nights it was harder to get everyone involved, but I had a great tech working with me and it was fun material that I’d been given.
And then, as Christmas approached, my grandfather died. He’d lived a great, long life and it wasn’t completely unexpected, but it was very sudden. We were very close, and I can honestly say that he was one of the most generous and kindest souls I’ve ever had the blessing to meet. He was quiet and unassuming, had a wicked sense of humor, and had a surprising amount of life experiences under his belt. He was all around ‘good people.’ His passing made me question a lot about myself and my worth at the time. It was one of those things that I knew was going to be hard, but I wasn’t prepared for how brutally hard it was.
And as it often happens when you have a creative job – you’ve just got to go on. And my instinct (after I’d been allowed to take a couple of days) was to keep going on. Having something routine to fall back on was a lifesaver at that point and is my usual coping mechanism straight off the bat. But it didn’t make singing happy Christmas songs and watching families come and go any easier. But I was doing my thing in my cute little elf outfit, dancing around the workshop set doing my thing for the few families that had wandered in to our last show of the night. A few of the kids had dragged their chairs closer to the stage and I loved that kind of initiative; it made the audience-interaction part so much easier. So there I was, in character, doing my best to keep my head on my shoulders when I happened to notice that one little girl who looked around eight or nine was practically hopping out of her seat with a question. She’d looked so excited to be there, but the further in I got in things, the more torn she looked. Since it was close enough to the audience participation bit, I asked her what was on her mind, my elfy clipboard still in hand (oh yes, I was a very official, if superficially-minded elf!)
“Well, I know some people say there’s no Santa, but I thought there was one, and you’re an elf so can you tell me if there is a Santa or not?”
I couldn’t begin to make this up. I think I stood there for two seconds, eyes probably as big as ornaments. Somewhere in my peripheral vision I could see the show tech and those that were manning the food tables (oh yes, not only were we holiday-themed in a makeshift shelter, but we also had a buffet!) were all agog and I think they were waiting for me to just get on with the show and get it over with. At the time I was painfully aware that different parents have different ways they want to handle this little issue, but looking to the girl’s parents didn’t give me much guidance – they were just as surprised as I was. This was improv at its best, and I had no clue what to do.
As cynical and snarky as I come off sometimes, I’m a big softie (shhh, trade secret). I also love kids and there was no way in hell I was going to be a Scrooge to a little girl so close to Christmas. And to be fair, I may be older and I get the logistics of the real world, but in my mind there’s nothing wrong with believing in Santa during the holidays. If that makes life a little sweeter and people a little happier, I’m totally willing to go with belief over fact during that time of the year and if it makes me happy. You know that song from the claymation special The Year Without a Santa Claus, the one that goes I believe in Santa Claus like I believe in love? My Santa system kind of works like that. I may be an adult with adult responsibilities, but there’s no reason why I can’t open my heart to a little magic this time of year, and share it with others.
I just hoped her folks would understand. I opened my mouth, not quite knowing what was going to come out. Next thing I knew I had the kid up onstage in the workshop so we could have a talk. My memory’s a little hazy since my adrenaline and empathy were taking over at that point, but I think I said something like “You know, a lot of people see things just with their eyes. And that’s okay, but there are a lot of things that you have to see with your heart. That doesn’t make them any less real or less important, okay? Especially at Christmas time. Santa’s one of those things that’s real, but you have to put a little more effort into seeing him.”
She’d calmed down by that point and looked up at me with big, shining eyes. “And sometimes your eyes and heart match up, right?” I asked her what she meant and she came back with “Well if I wasn’t believing then I wouldn’t have found a real elf to tell me what was going on!”
I’m actually shocked I didn’t cry my eyes out right there. The whole group of us sang a lot of Christmas songs and afterwards we did a meet and greet and group photos – all par for the course but this time it was chock full of meaning. The girl’s mom came up to me afterwards, thanking me because she just hadn’t been sure how to handle the situation. I couldn’t begin to find words to explain that they’d given me just as much, if not more – they’d taken my mind off my own pain and made me realize that sure, it may just be a fleeting little moment, but I actually began to realize at that point that I could make life nicer for people, even in small ways. Even the silly, off-the-cuff things that I did mattered.
I carry that memory with me still and bring it out when I wonder what the heck I’m doing at certain points in my life. All the little interactions, the silly things that you may not think are important to anyone else…well, they matter to someone else. And at some points we’re put in situations because who we are is needed to help someone else, even in small ways. And if we’re lucky, they tend to help us right back.