It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m playing cat’s cradle with an unruly tangle of thoughts telling me I should feel happy, I should act merry, I should engage in festive revelry. But I’m not feeling it and haven’t felt it yet, not since that first digital snowflake fell across an innocent Google search, or a glittery felt version affixed itself to a retail shop window, and certainly not now. Christmas—what does it even mean anymore?
I think it started when a really cool, compassionate mystic was allegedly born to a virgin in a manger. But what does that have to do with buying shit, and what’s a manger, anyway?
It feels like we’ve been going through the empty motions of holiday tradition for so long now that no one remembers why or what for, and so we cling to fading notions of yesteryear’s rituals by way of consumption—eggnog, fruit cake, mistletoe, stockings, displaced pine trees and clear-cut forests turned shiny wrapping paper suffocating in red thermoplastic ribbon.
Eat sugary treats. Covet things. Spend imaginary money on crap we don’t need crafted in overseas sweatshops by 10-cent-a-day child fingers. Complain. Cut lines. Fight traffic. Be mean.
I do a (snowflake-speckled) web search for “DubStep + December 24 + Santa Fe,” come up tragically dry, and surrender to the Canyon Road thing.
Having heard umpteen starry-eyed, sugar-frosted versions of holiday awesomeness experienced while trekking Santa Fe’s famed gallery row, I want to believe the outing will infuse me with warmth and joy, while gifting me a modicum of holiday spirit.
And so it is that I don me now my fleece-lined apparel, snatch my friend Michael, and set about braving the cold, the wet and the throngs for a taste of holiday magic.
We stride among fellow bundled-up brethren, sloshing along the windy, slippery street lined with tea-light-lit lunch bags, bonfires and the occasional gaggle of carolers. A well-dressed classical guitar player strums alongside a fellow dandy plucking a stand-up bass in front of a jewelry store. It’s sweet, and it even sparks a smile, but I’m too cold to stand around and appreciate their tunes. I look up to see a paper bag floating high above the trees, illuminated by the fire that fuels its flight, and I’m touched, inspired by the beauty I’m seeing.
Maybe there’s something to Christmas, after all, I think.
As it turns out, there isn’t.
My flying paper lantern high has about as much staying power as the vessel itself, which abruptly self-immolates and tumbles to the ground.
It’s flat; it’s dull; it’s going through the motions while wondering if losing my toes is a realistic possibility. Shivering alongside so many aloof others trudging a prefab path of linear-moving submission into galleries filled with store-bought cookies and uninspired art, and even a few decent pieces, I feel only disconnect. We’re not engaging, or laughing, or vibing high or bright or wonderful. We’re not making eye contact or meeting smiles or saying “Excuse me” while we spill cocoa on each other’s favorite wool scarves.
I join a cluster of folks around the roaring Tea House bonfire, as they half-heartedly mumble a handful of Christmas carols, uttering words like “sleigh bells” and “Satan” with equal parts oblivion and apathy. I don’t know any of the (archaic, irrelevant) words, and I don’t care because, aside from a four-eyed 8-year-old with blue fingernails and her nog-happy father, no one looks like they’re having any fun.
I don’t mean to bah humbug all over our salt-stained Sorels; I’m just trying to figure this Christmas thing out.
“It’s nice for the kids,” Michael posits.
That seems to be the local philosophy, born of a long-dead idealized icon who (may or may not have) sacrificed himself for the whole of humanity: Who cares that we’re bored and boring and disconnected? Our kids are having a blast.
I recognize the snazzy, jazzy saxophone player guiding a motley clump of gawkers through a merry(ish), mid-street sing-along. We met at the solstice party I crashed earlier in the week. Now, that was a celebration that made sense—a season’s end, another’s beginning, the return of sunlight, the chance to intend 2012 something fiercely wonderful, extraordinarily inspired, expansive, abundant, connected and fun. But Christmas? Ick. I tried; I really did. I decorated a feisty little tree branch with pom-poms and string. I made holiday cards and sent them to precisely no one while I waited to be really, truly inspired. Maybe it’s me, this momentary scrooge, but I’m not just me; I’m part of our larger we, and if the company I’m keeping on Canyon Road is any indication, our we is as dull and lame as I feel.
I drop off Michael and head home to soak/save my feet and find my way to holiday—well, if not cheer, at least equanimity. I pull out my crayons and a stack of handmade cards, channel all that latent love and gratitude that’s been hiding behind my scowl, and share it with those I love the most.
It’s a start.