This post is very personal because life is ultimately about the collection of personal moments we hold so dear. These treasured memorable instances of self-connection and self-awareness are all we have, and all we will ever to take the grave. If we were Christmas trees, such memories would be our twinkling lights that give us color and character.
Step into my background for context. I’m an American; I live in Greece. I’m originally from Miami (Florida), or more specifically Westchester and some temporally conglomerated junction of Bird Road (near the old trains tracks), Coral Way, Galloway Road, South Dixie Highway, Dadeland, Coral Gables and all the old haunts I still visit in my mind from time to time. If you don’t know Miami, these places have nothing to do with Miami Vice, South Beach, Art-Deco or Calle Ocho. I’m from a period time when neon signs flashed brilliantly in the looming darkness along a two-lane corridor of rushing four-wheeled headlights causing horizontal blurring streaks across falling dusky skies of electric blues and burnt oranges.
But this post isn’t about Miami; it’s about Christmas, self-actualization, self-awareness, self-worth and all those personal selfies we hold so dear. It’s not just about the blues and oranges, but also the punctuated reds and greens that grew out of early images of black and white.
Sometime in early 2018, I will reach, yet again, another juncture in my life. There is no doubt that it will be a watershed period of clarity; a moment in time which a North star will shine brightly on the chaos down below and perhaps offer me a new path to a destination unknown … or not.
Perennially, I’m caught somewhere among “where I want to be”, “where it is realistic for me to” and “where the fuck I REALLY do want to be”. As a rule, I don’t know where I”m going anyway, and so that’s where you tend to find me. Nevertheless, you won’t hear pouting or shouting because reality always thunders home with a sobering “who knows and at this point, who cares” thought. Questions of “where am I”, like visions of sugar-plums, dance in the existential air and I find comfort in non-conformity.
It’s true that some of my earliest concepts of Christmas were in black and white, sitting with my sister watching TV. Mix in a slow musical drip of “Sleigh Ride” heard in every festive commercial and then contrast with frequent trips to the colorfully decorated grocery, department and drug stores viewed through heavy astigmatism … again to the tune of holiday muzak. Into the mix also goes the nighttime skies of the 1960’s that were darker than anything since … well, since then. My family would ride around neighborhoods to marvel at the Christmas light displays some people had set up on their homes. Overhead, the Good Year blimp would hover with its own flashing light display as seemed to chase dancing klieg lights radiating from far below and swaying to and fro.
This all made quite an impression on one little wide-eyed Jewish and American labeled dadaist boy who, sorry to say, was forced to celebrate Hanukkah – also referred to a times as a festival of lights. Suffice it to say that I don’t like military parades or music that celebrates the victory of war or the march to battle. The same is true of related holidays.
In truth, both Hanukkah and Christmas are pseudo-religious holidays. Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Old Testament, nor is Santa Claus in the New Testament. Nor for that matter is there any mention of Christmas lights, fruit cake, honey-baked hams, potato latkes, dreidels, gift-exchange cards or eggnog. Religion is not the point; it’s the distraction. What matters to me is the re-appropriation of personal experiences and concepts to be put towards the purpose of their serving a higher universal sense of harmonious existence. Priests and Rabbis, of course, will beg to differ … along with their begs for congregational dues.
Anyway, one of my earliest black and white memories of Christmas is an episode of the old comedy series “Petticoat Junction” In the episode, the cast light up the Cannon Ball, the local train, and travel down the tracks singing carols, supposedly visiting other small towns like their own, Hooterville.
The scene itself, all in black and white, is a bit surrealistic. You basically see repeated shots, from various distances, of the exterior of the brightly lit train as it chugs down the tracks in the night. You can make out the cast in one car singing carols joyously, and then a shot of the back of the caboose with the blazing words “Merry Christmas” and a Christmas tree, perched on its end, moving in time with each crossed railroad tie. The huffing and puffing din of engine and wheels are heard slightly louder than the caroling which fades in and out as the train approaches and leaves center screen. From sound to silence and back.
The scene reminds me of the sounds I used to hear in the night when my family lived just off Bird Road, nearby the old FEC and SEC train-tracks. Each night, the sounds of passing freight trains and people’s radios danced in the balmy Miami breeze.
Today’s home Christmas light decorations tend to be vibrant affairs. Hundreds of small light bulbs densely packed together to create a diffused solid wave of white light. There is much glare, but a balance between light and dark is rare. Such displays tend to turn night into day. But, I miss the pin-points of color that punctuated the darkness of night. Similarly, I miss the stars spilling out across the fabric of a dark sky, creating, in a sense, a blanket of black and white Christmas trees spreading across the universe.
In older days, Christmas bulbs were larger and gave off less vibrancy; it created more contrast and fostered a better appreciation between the light and dark. It is analogous to music; all music notes and not space between notes is just noise. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that many modern Christmas displays are just a silent cacophony of white noise.
I think we need to appreciate both the day and the night. Throughout my life, I have always preferred to go to bed late but also wake up early. I’ve always hated the sense of missing being awake. The older I get, the more my body appreciates a good night’s sleep, but my psyche continues to wake me up after 5 hours of sleep or 10 minutes before my alarm is set to go off.
It should come as no surprise that my favorite times of the day are dusk and dawn, when there is an electric feel to the sky. Add a few flashing neon signs into the waning electric blues and burnt oranges and you get a sense of … well, of Christmas, every day of the year.
There is a scene the film, “Scrooged”, in which Bill Murray’s character emotes erratically about “the feeling” of goodwill and kindness and wanting to feel it all year, even to the extent of becoming greedy for it. In marketing, there is a phenomenon of “Christmas Creep” which relates to how early retail stores begin promoting Christmas products. Indeed. Whatever the reason, our hearts or our shoes, were it true that we are all reminded daily of those few exceptional days of the year. Isn’t it time we dispense with the all too too trendy “I hate Christmas” and “pooh pooh to the whos” grinchy sentiments which have become even more commercial than Christmas?
I’ve raised this question countless time before: why do we waste 5 days of each week moaning and groaning about our work, just to live for a couple of days on the weekend? Why do so many bitch for 11 months of the year, pining for a few measly weeks of Summer holidays and vacations? How many Facebook photo albums are filled with that one shot of someone at one moment in some exotic far away place they might never again visit in their lives? What are these badges of “I’ve lived life” prove more than the old car windshield stickers sold at tourist attractions. I always prefer seeing candid shots of everyday life than posed faux photo-op moments that scream “look at me”.
Look hard. The spirits of sharing, peace on Earth and a Brotherhood of Man can be found among the gaudy and garish attention-grabbing consumerific attitudes of “what I want” and “what you need” for Christmas; the ribbon, the wrapping, the boxes, the trimmings. Yes, it wouldn’t be Christmas without these mindless preoccupations, but you can still walk around a crowded mall, listen to a flute and guitar duo perform “Sleigh Ride” in their own unique fashion and feel alive from the energy of the spirit of giving. Yes, it’s chaos, but this is from what we were born.
I’ve always been comfortable with who I am, despite the chaos around me. I’ve always been comfortable with my inner-belief structure, despite the chaos around me, despite all who have tried to change me over the years, and despite all my failed efforts to please others in spite of my self. The spirit of Jay remains and so does my spirit of Christmas, be they in colorful hues or black and white. My early impressionistic memories and sense of self are ever present to guide me.
Christmas, like life, is what you, personally, make of it. Self-awareness, self-actualization and self-worth is all that matters at the end of the day, and each day. If we all embraced who we were born to be … who we know deep down who we are meant to be … then we might liberate our creative selves and humanity from our suffocating dependency on divisive survival-of-the-fittest associations of institutionalism, be they of nationality, religion, politics, or even sports, philosophy and academia.
I’m concerned about the future, but I’m not interested in bringing back the past. To do so is self-deluding. Worse is revisionist history; that is truly fucked up, albeit apparently very trendy. My past is about me, not the times or the “old days”. It’s the unfettered personal moments, insights, and enlightenment of our sense of self that matter, especially those from long before we allowed ourselves to be charmed by the external whims and agenda of others. It’s the all the personal pin-points of light that spread out across a life-time of experience that ultimately compose a picture of who we are.
All I ever want for each and every Christmas is to just let us all be who we want to be and for us to simply live fully alive in each moment of each day. Santa Claus and batteries not required.