December 24, 2008
By Al Carlos Hernandez
A flood of familial emotion that gains momentum throughout the year seems to pool into an alchemy stew of color, visceral pine, arroz, tamalianic scents, and surreptitious sounds during the Christmas holidays. Yeah, I made up the word “tamalianic.” Y qué?
I suppose this potential torrent of pent up emotion is why corporations are trying to script their Christmas parties so that office workers don’t go nuts, get hammed and tell compatriots exactly what they think about them. Like many of you I would rather be called the office jerk than to have folks drape their arms over my shoulder and tell me how much they love and admire me. It’s easier to apologize and take back an insult than an ill placed accolade. I am the kind of cat who would rather ask for forgiveness than permission.
As a middle class adult, I am trying to distance holiday memories about Christmas because I only seem to remember the bad ones. Growing up urban poor, in a family of five kids, there have been as many tears, but, in hindsight, more laughter then than now. It is getting better. I can hear two Christmas songs in a row without slipping into a malaise.
The holiday for me has rarely really lived up to its hype. Those of us on the left coast have no idea about snow, reindeer, lit fireplaces, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Our experience is limited to palm trees decorated with lights, tank topped mall Santas, and egg nog on the rocks.
The colors of the season enchant me. The red glowing lights dim through a smudged apartment window. The K Mart blue bulb ricocheting off a handmade aluminum ornament. The green cord spine of the light string snake. A yellow mustard slice peering through dark green pine needles. A clear chrome pearl necklace wound down from top to bottom.
There used to be these eve dropper type bulbs that, at their base, would glow, pink, green, gold, and would bubble clear liquid through the tip. We would sit close, enveloped with the smell of the tree, and watch the bulbs percolate as the hour to open the presents drew near, amidst a music bed of familiar voices, and well worn war stories. Voices that, deep in my heart, I will always remember and painfully miss this time around the table.
By far the best Christmas was when we woke up to find brand new bikes for all of us under the tree. For a minute our life was a 1960 network TV commercial. We rode the training wheels off that day. Who knew that Santa could find us way down in the barrio?
Dad and Mom did.
It would be great to have deep pockets. Like Elvis, we could buy “the people that matter” a new Cadillac. The Santa conspiracy is probably where the term “wish list” came from.
Giving seems more corporate and clinical nowadays with the advent of the gift certificate. Folks are so concerned about getting that special person the right thing that they defer to a money card purchased at a favorite store so the intended can buy their own present from you.
Part of the Christmas fun for my wife and I is to search high and low for the right present for people we care for, based on our knowledge of their style likes and dislikes. We try to locate that special thing that they would cherish and that they wouldn’t buy for themselves. I think we fail more than succeed but to us the process is more fulfilling than the desired result.
The holiday axiom is “It is better to give than receive” and I believe that this is true. That is not to say that I don’t enjoy presents. I do. It is also said, “It’s not the gift, and it’s the thought.” It is quite clear to me that if you buy me a whack present then you don’t think highly of me at all. I am smart enough to know it, hold it against you and buy you a salad shooter next year.
I decided to remember the faces, the smiles, and the warm hugs of the season. To savor the special foods and to engage in intimate and meaningful conversation with loved ones during seasonal appearances. Not to look back as much as to bathe in the uniqueness of the moment. To acquiesce to the historical spirituality of the holiday and to remember that Christ is the reason for the season.
Peace and blessings to you and yours