So this time of year is always a bit weird for me. Back when I was a kid, I used to love Christmas. It was the one time of year I was guaranteed to see and spend lots of time with my dad, who also loved the holiday. He traveled a lot for his job, and I didn't see him much. He used to make a big deal out of the holiday, and I enjoyed it, and sharing it with him.
That turned out to be problematic for me in later years, when I found out that for my entire life, my dad had been a narcissistic, antisocial, monster. During the mainstay of my childhood he led a hidden life, cheating on my mother with more than a dozen women. In later years he added to this by embezzling an enormous amount of money from my grandparents' family business, crushing it, and emotionally blackmailing my entire family by pretending to have leukemia, when he never did. (I could go on at length about my dad's many ills, he was a spectacularly broken, bad person who did awful things to me and so many of the people I loved. But I won't, because this isn't really about him.)
Anyhow, when all this terribleness came to light, it shattered my family. For years, I really, really hated him. I also had a bitter loathing of the holiday season. Anything to do with Christmas or the notion of returning home to one's big, happy family made me want to vomit. There's this Folger's commercial that I particularly loathed, and which still makes me unhappy to this day.
Later on, as I made peace with my father, and raised a child with my first wife, I learned to find my joy with Christmas again, to a degree. After I remarried, that "Re-Christmisazation" process continued. My wife Missy loves Christmas. My sister-in-law does, too. They dance around the tree, singing, while they decorate it. They love putting up funny Christmas decorations, putting electric candles in the windows, all that jazz. It's often infectious, and I'll get swept up in it.
But I'm a bit Christmas bipolar, at times.
Every so often, the old pain about the holidays comes rushing back, and I find the whole thing hollow, and unpleasant. Then there's my odd disconnect with it, socially and spiritually. As a Taoist, it's not my holiday. (I don't really have holidays, per se. My only day is this day.) So the commercial, run-to-the-mall, show-your-love-with-stuff thing kinda grosses me out. It reminds me a bit of things my dad did, who often emotionally manipulated others by buying their affection.
I know, for a gratitude post, this is pretty depressing, right? Stick with me, I'm getting there.
That pendulum does swing the other way too. A few weeks ago, my friends Moliére, Squee, Ally, and I ran a sort of littles-themed Christmas event called the Littles Express. It was magical. It made everyone who attended so darn happy. That in turn, made me happy.
Yesterday I went Christmas shopping for my wife and my sister-in-law. I did it by myself, and navigated the stores and crowds reasonably. I got most of that shopping done. I treated myself to ice cream, and food court chicken teriyaki, both guilty pleasures. As I was walking around looking for things I knew they'd like, I suddenly found my Christmas spirit again. It felt great to find gifts for them which I knew would delight them. I'm looking forward to their surprise as they open them. Getting stuff is nice, but giving is awesome.
The Friday after Christmas, I have plans to see an old friend, and to do this Christmas tradition he and I have had for years. We go to a moderately priced restaurant, order our meal, and when the check comes, we tip 100%, in cash, and write a nice note to the server, and then bolt on out of there, so they are surprised by it. We love doing this.
So I guess the thing I'm grateful for is that I'm able to make the holiday my own. Through mindfulness, I can have "Christmas Presence".