One year it took me until Christmas Eve and hearing “2000 Miles” by the Pretenders to get into the Christmas spirit. I was driving west on Interstate 26, from Columbia to Greenville, South Carolina, and it just came on while flipping through the channels. This was around the time that a few radio stations started playing nothing but Christmas music sometime around Thanksgiving. Some of you may remember a time when Christmas songs just sort of showed up randomly on stations. I kind of liked those days. How many different and tired versions of the same songs exist? The answer is lots. Lots of different and tired versions of the same songs exist. Why do I need to hear Sarah Mclachlan sing “Happy Christmas” more than John Lennon? Seriously, if you’re going to play “Happy Christmas” over and over, then play the John Lennon version more. Come on. Anyway, I was tuning up and down the dial, and I heard those opening guitar lines of “2000 Miles,” the way it fades in, and then I felt it. I felt that “Christmas thing.” That warm feeling that says this is a special time of year so enjoy it.
This was the time in my life when I was done with school and not on my parents dime, and for the first time, I could literally do whatever I wanted, obviously within reason. It was a great time, and it only happens once.
When I was growing up, there were rules. Lots of rules; from my parents, from teachers, coaches, other people’s parents. I was up early, like 7 am early, every day, just to go to school and learn stuff that seemed unnecessary and kind of like torture. So, of course I looked forward to about a half a month of watching tv until 3 am and sleeping late, oh and presents: that thing that I HAD TO HAVE, waiting for me on Christmas morning. It was easy to get into the Christmas spirit then, or at least what felt like the Christmas spirit, anyway.
Then, I was done with school, and all of a sudden, I’m the only one telling me what to do. Sure, I had a job. But, no real responsibility; very few bills. It was real freedom. Eventually, I would end up moving on from just slinging drinks for cash and renting place after place. But at that moment, I was on my own. I was headed home on Christmas Eve, tired and hungover. I had scrambled for gifts for everybody and it all just seemed like a hassle. I threw everything in the car, and hit the road. So far, the Christmas spirit had eluded me. Then “2000 Miles.”
So here I am now. Christmas Eve 2015. I have finally succumbed to responsibility, this “real world,” I’ve heard so much about. I got married. My wife, asks me to do things like “run a vacum.” And, most likely, I’ll end up with some kids running around sooner than later. Most of us end up losing the fight to responsibility. Regardless of your situation, unless you’re that awesome fifty year old guy that has a killer southern rock bar band, does carpentry and maintenance work, and talks about bands he saw at various civic centers across the Southeast, eventually, you’ll probably have to start answering to someone besides yourself. I used to drive to towns where my friends lived for the weekend with no plans and sleep on random couches. I’d wake up on Sunday, get my bearings, maybe throw up, and head back to where I was currently living. Ahh. The good old days. Genuine, crazy, freedom.
But, it was during those particular years of freedom when I first lost that Christmas luster. For the first time, I went to sleep on Christmas Eve without that excitement in my gut. When I was a kid, that excitement started sometime after Thanksgiving, and then it just turned into combustion by Christmas Eve. I’m sure if you have a family of your own, it probably gets easier again. Your kid’s excitement will make you excited. But, during those wild freedom years, I had to actually search for the Christmas spirit. It may be the only time when the sort of artificial elements of Christmas didn’t penetrate me so easily. And, I think that is kind of beautiful.
That luster should never really be a part of Christmas, anyway. But it is, and that’s ok. I’m not going to condemn the young folks or my old self for enjoying the less substantial qualities of the holiday season. But, when I didn’t have a break from school and bunch of toys or a must have gift to look forward to, its when I really discovered what’s great about Christmas. Like the moment when giving somebody something really did feel better than getting something. That’s a great feeling. I found that gift. The one I knew would mean a lot to them. And I saw them open it up and it felt great. The search to connect with the Christmas spirit has made me less selfish and it feels good in a way I never even knew could feel good-its good feeling I never really knew was missing. And good is not really even the right word. It gives me a sort of spiritual satisfaction.
So, now, when I catch myself just going through the motions during holiday season, or even worse, maybe the holidays are stressing me out to the point that I’m pissed and just ready for it to be over; I pull back for a second. Breathe. Remember the good stuff:
The Bumpus’ dogs
Cheech and Chong talking about Santa Claus and his old lady
Christmas Eve service with my family
Taking some time to do something for someone with less.
And I try to enjoy it.
It only comes once a year.
And those years only come for so long...