I love Christmas: the lights, the color, the stories. Christmas is firmly associated with magic. Every holiday special in existence proves that you can count on Christmas for a miracle. Miracles are pleasant surprises, the direct equivalent of good magic.
I also hate Christmas. I could say that the stress of the extra chores coupled with the crowds, traffic, and having to listen to The Little Drummer Boy are what make me crazy, but it’s not. All that stuff adds to my crankiness, but it isn’t the issue.
My problem with Christmas started right after my divorce. I was living alone in a cabin next to a Christmas tree farm. As I sat mourning the life I had thought my marriage would give me, I got to watch excited families as they cut down their trees.
Cheerful couples with glowing children and a tree to decorate; Kodak moments outside my window, every damn day.
Christmas was rubbing my nose in my failures. My life didn’t look anything like the picture-perfect model. I knew I was an outsider, but I hated Christmas because it would not let me forget it.
Then I discovered Nora Ephron’s Mixed Nuts*. This farcical story about a suicide hotline on Christmas Eve is full of black humor, but it’s also about the real trauma of Christmas, about people with broken hearts and broken dreams. Lost, lonely, desperate people just trying to survive the jolliness.
Phillip (played by Steve Martin) explains my problem when he is talking to a man who is standing on a ledge and holding a gun to his own head. He says:
“You’re upset because it’s Christmas. Christmas is a time when you look at your life through a magnifying glass and whatever you don’t have feels overwhelming. Being alone is so much lonelier at Christmas. Everything sad is so much sadder at Christmas.”
It’s hard enough to live with the disappointments in my life, but when the holidays begin to magnify what’s missing, it can feel impossible to go on. No wonder I sometimes hate Christmas.
Fortunately, Christmas miracles do happen. I adore the fairyland of Old Town at night, every tree glittering with lights. I smile when I glimpse a neighbor’s decorations through their front window. I experience moments of peace, gratitude, and love in the midst of the insanity of my holiday schedule.
And when I feel my shoulders tensing at some sugar-coated Christmas image, I remind myself it’s just the magnifying glass making me cranky.
*If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry. Mixed Nuts bombed. (IMDB 5.1; Rotten Tomatoes audience 48%, critics 7%) I don’t understand why people don’t love it. (Are Nora Ephron and I the only ones in the world who feel this way? If so, I am screwed, because she died in June 2012.) It’s been out of print for ages. You can get the DVD via Netflix or a digital copy via Amazon or iTunes. If you do like it, please let me know. I’m feeling a little lonely now that Nora’s gone.