In what I will almost certainly always remember as one of the most bizarre and chaotic years of my life, above all 2018 for me will be The Year Without Christmas.
I understand that there are whole cultures on the planet which include billions of people to whom “Christmas” is only an abstract idea and commercial construct from a distant Western culture, something that gets rammed down their throats as they make their living in June making cheap toys for under our trees in December.
But I’m not a member of any of those cultures. And while I may have rejected the religious basis for the holiday when I rejected the religion, and while I may be incredibly cynical about the commercial aspects of the holiday, there’s still plenty left to “Christmas” that is warm and comforting and familiar. (And, no, I’m not talking about the damn Hallmark Christmas movies.)
Childhood memories of Christmas are happy ones. (Not all other childhood memories can say the same.) Even as a young, single, college student, going home to my parents’ house at Christmas was something to look forward to. When I got married and had kids, making Christmas special for the kids made it special for me. And for decades as my kids grew up, a significant family tradition of putting up enough Christmas lights to become a hazard to local air traffic.
After everything else that went on in that God-forsaken year, we had the opportunity to go away for almost two weeks, to Seattle and Kansas City, to see some football and a whole slew of museums and other sights. The kids are grown. The pets are gone. The office is closed. Why not? Wasn’t this exactly the sort of opportunity we’ve been waiting for all these years?
The trip was a lot of fun and I don’t regret a moment of it. But there was a tiny side effect, which wasn’t completely unexpected, but I misjudged the magnitude of it.
There was no “Christmas.”
We were flying from Seattle to Kansas City on Christmas Day. As expected we found KC to be pretty much shut down on Christmas Day, not a fast-food joint to be found open and most of the regular restaurants shut down as well. We ended up scrambling just to find a place to have dinner.
The hotel was festive and decorated to the nines with a huge Christmas tree in the lobby – but it wasn’t home. We had put up our tree before we left, but in all of the chaos and being gone, this is the first year in several decades that I don’t have a picture of it.
There was never a single gift put under the tree – the trip was our gift to ourselves. And since we were gone, the gifts for the kids and others were just gift cards delivered by email and FedEx and UPS.
Mostly as a result of the new, smaller house, but also as the result of 2018’s time pressure on me and the chaos that seemed to fill the year, the number of lights put up was less than 20% of what we normally put up.
New Year’s didn’t do much better than Christmas. We were flying back home on New Year’s Eve and our big “celebration” for the evening was finding an open grocery store and getting enough staples to make it through New Year’s Eve and Day without needing to go find an open McDonalds. With the jet lag and the early wake up call to make our return flight, staying up to midnight wasn’t quite the thrill that you see on TV.
Overlaying it all was the “trip mentality” where I was completely unanchored from my usual routine, leaving me constantly trying to remember what day of the week it was and what the date was. On Christmas Day I literally forgot a dozen times that it was Christmas Day, leaving me wondering where everyone was on the freeways in KC and why there weren’t any stores open. If you want to feel stupid, have that dazed and confused “what planet are you from?” look on your face when you say to some Hertz rental car clerk, “Wait, you mean TODAY is Christmas??!”
Now we’re already a week into 2019 and the routine is being re-established. But there’s a hole in the end of 2018. Where normally there would be memories of presents and family celebrations and college football bowl games and a big turkey dinner, we now have memories of museums, BBQ, and freezing our butts off at Arrowhead.
The new memories aren’t bad in any way. For the most part they’re all wonderful. But they’re not “Christmas.”
So where do we go next year for “Christmas?” London? Hawaii? Rome?