“There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas” has always been untrue. Kilimanjaro has a year round white cap, the Atlas mountains get frequent dustings down to the village altitudes, and the Mountains of the Moon still have glaciers (just).
What that line means, beneath the actual words, is “there won’t be snow in the collective mental image of sandy dusty Africa this christmas”. Only this year there was: down it came upon the Pyramids at Giza, the Sphinx, palm trees and all.
Reading through the Uborka yulevent posts today (I have been very good at work lately, hence the lack of reading so far), I can see that a lot of us are in the same boat, in terms of how we approach the holiday. The old rules no longer apply. Everything is different, and we’re in control of just how different. We’re able to frame things as we please – we’re free to acknowledge that there is no magical mythological side to the winter holiday, be it rotund aerial philanthropists or a celebration of a new baby that manages to contain a negative association toward actual sex. We can choose to live in a world complex enough to acknowledge that there is snow in Africa pretty much all of the time, and we are free to celebrate how we wish.
This year, due to a number of unexpected circumstances, Krissa and I will be spending christmas at home in Brooklyn, just the two of us. And the dog.
I miss my family in England, and Krissa’s family too, but the prospect of this holiday-at-home is very exciting to me.
When I was growing up (along with being excited about presents and happy at the lack of school) I understood christmas was a time of obligation and doing things that had to be done. I loved it, but as a child who loved self-direction, I riled gently against the understanding that there was going to be a parentally decreed amount of Family Time… just as there were certain clothes I had to wear, and that after a meal there would be a set time for Letting Your Dinner Go Down followed by Going For A Walk. It may well have been my inner laziness accumulated over time, or a child’s view, but I always felt as if there was an element of striving in christmas preparations – striving to meet the criteria for tradition, or from a joneses-less keeping-up-with-the-joneses sort of attitude – that meant it rarely felt relaxed.
I have a clear memory of the moment I realized that in the future there would be a time when I wouldn’t have those structures around me. I’d be living somewhere else, celebrating with someone else, perhaps a girlfriend or a wife, and we could do what we wanted.
It was while watching the movie Scrooged. Accompanied by the Ghost of Christmas Past, evil 80s corporate shill Bill Murray watches his past self enjoy the christmas of 1969 alone in a bohemian apartment with Karen Allen. Now…I’m not going to pretend that there weren’t some pre-adolescent sexual stirrings occurring here. As a kid I was clearly not the target audience for this scene – it opens with Karen Allen in the bath and she gives Mr Murray a copy of the Kama Sutra before a hasty cut to the next scene BUT BUT BUT let’s just focus on how eye-opening it was – a cold night outside, a scrappy looking tree next to a bare radiator, and just the two of them in a messy but cosy looking apartment, and nothing else.
After five or six attempts to write a sentence to describe that moment, all drafts of which used long words, I realize I’m lucky to be writing this post in 2013 because there’s a phrase I can use that means you’ll all get it:
It was if all the Pinterest fell out of christmas in an instant.
There was no lingering shot of beautiful ever-present decorations or an extravagant meal, or people sitting stiffly around in sweaters. The little tree on the table was all they wanted and all they had. In the film the scene was meant to portray a time of hardship but close relationship, but it was incredibly powerful to me in that different way, and I wanted that scene in my future.
This year, as Krissa and I prepare to spend the holidays here together, is the first time that might happen – perhaps the only time it may happen – and I’m very excited.
Of course this is the true, complicated reality rather than a movie.
I love and miss my family and of course we would be spending the holiday with them if we could.
My wife has a certain intrinsic Pinterestyness to everything she does that no amount of childhood aspiration could convince me to change.
They couldn’t amend 1988 Bill Murray’s hairline for the 1969 scene, and my hairline is right back there along with his.
We’re decorating, and we’ll cook something, I’m sure, but this christmas, nothing is set in stone. We’ll do what we like when we like, just the two of us, and I’m looking forward to it enormously.