When I was a kid, Christmas was a big deal in my house. My mother was an overt Christmas lover; she would hang the first decorations about the same time as the first snow fell, Boney M Christmas music would rattle through our stereo by the first of December, and the dog would walk around, extremely depressed, with a pair of plush reindeer antlers strapped to her head.
My Dad, on the other hand, was a very subtle Christmas nut. He professed to hate Christmas Music (“Oh, for Christ’s sake, would you turn that shit off!?), hate the decorations, (“One more goddamned thing for me to hit my head on!”) and felt a pang of sympathy for the dog (“Take those things off, you’re gonna give her a complex!”). But we somehow, always, every year, found ourselves watching It’s A Wonderful Life, at least once during the Christmas season, and every time my father went into a store in the week before the 25th, he left with a robust “Merry Christmas!”
When I was about twelve years old, and searching the bookshelves for something to read around Christmas, my Dad produced a musty, moth-eaten copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. He insisted I read it, as it was “a real Christmas Story”, and then sat me down to watch the Alastair Sim version of the movie.
My father was not a man of religion, in fact he deeply mistrusted the motivations of any religion, (“You don’t have to go to church to be nice to people, for Christ’s Sake,) but he liked the idea that we could “Set aside a couple of days a year when people stop being assholes.”
As I grew up, I absorbed the Christmas observances of both my parents. In an image of my mother I like Christmas music, Christmas movies (My friends and I would watch this scene about a dozen times every year and nearly piss our pants), and ugly Christmas sweaters. But from my Dad I got a more subtle love and a deeper thought about the Christmas season, and what it’s really supposed to mean.
This is the first year I’ve had to think about Christmas without my Dad, and to tell the truth, I’m having a hard go of it.
This year, since my Dad’s death in January, has been a year of tough firsts. Each “special” occasion has been the first time I’ve had to do it without my old man around, and it has put a little crack in my heart. Every instance carries a certain weight, but the arrival of Christmas has gotten especially heavy, and I’ve had a bit of a “Fuck Christmas” vibe for the last month; I didn’t help my wife decorate the tree, I haven’t watched a single movie, and the only time I wore a bad sweater there was alcohol involved.
I was having a full-on grumpy Grinch moment this morning, when my wife and I went into a grocery store. The staff were all wearing Christmas hats, every aisle and stall was decorated in eye-woundingly bright decorations, and there was Christmas music piping through the speakers. It occurred to me that Christmas might have taken a fairly significant dump in that store, and I felt like the next idiot who wished me a ‘Merry Christmas’ might get a finger in the eye.
Then, as we got towards the back of the produce department, the music got increasingly louder. I was looking up at the speakers, my face obviously creased in annoyance, when I realized the music wasn’t coming from any sound system. In the back of the store, gliding softly among the broccoli and mangos, was a tall man in his early sixties, wearing blue jeans and a carefully combed Elvis-esq hairstyle, playing a fiddle. As we approached, he began playing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, which was one of those rare songs my old man had enjoyed.
I reached into my pocket to fish around for change to throw into his pot, or fiddle case, or what have you, but as I looked around I didn’t find any kind of receptacle. The guy saw me digging and looking, then tipped me a wink as his fingers flew over the strings and he sashayed around a couple of grey haired women who fanned themselves and fluttered their eyelashes.
The fiddle dude wasn’t playing for money, or charity, or anything else. He was playing because he dug Christmas, and he had a song for us.
I’m not going to tell you that this man’s song melted the ice in my cracked heart, cause I still miss my Dad and don’t have much inclination to celebrate Christmas without him. But after a day of thinking about that old guy and his fiddle, I am feeling just a touch less Grinchy. If that dude can come out on a rainy Saturday and play me a song just for the sake of the playing, then I think there might be a little space left for a few more Christmas stories, both mine and others.
I hope your Christmas is merry, and if you don’t have to work (like I and my team do), that you’ve got some family(both blood-relations and those you picked yourself) to tell you some stories.
As always, thanks for reading.