Friday, December 21, 2007

A Christmas Malcontent

I’ve never liked Christmas. As a child, Christmas day was invariably a disappointment, because my siblings always seemed to get more gifts, and better gifts than I did. As an adult, I find all the accumulating obligations of Christmas stifling. The shopping to be done, lights to be hung, and the all myriad preparations for the big day hang over me like the tedium of an unsatisfying job. All for a holiday that never really brings me much pleasure.

Other men have told me that they especially liked Christmas morning when their children were small. How they loved orchestrating the magic for their little ones, and seeing the bright wonder of it all in the light of their small eyes. But not me - I did my fatherly duty, but it never brought me joy. When I watched my children open their presents I always felt a certain simmering disquiet, because I was troubled by the way they would cast one present aside - one they had begged for – in their frenzied rush to open another. To me it seemed a perfect demonstration of the sin of greed, and I would feel an uneasy premonition they would live a life without savoring simple joys. There are feelings you can speak of, and feel some connection with others who relate to them. But not this feeling - I'm alone in this.

I know there are deeper reasons for this. The jealousy I had over the gifts of my siblings quickened my inner sense that I was unwanted, that I was a just careless afterthought of my overworked parents. Christmas is an intensely social time, and I am happiest by myself, or in small groups of people I know very well. The mythology of Christmas is supposed to foster joy, but I have an inner nature that invariably orients my mood in opposition to those around me. Among sad people I tend to be happy and full of humor, among angry people I tend towards complacency, and among happy people I tend towards moroseness. This is the reason I find solitude so liberating - When I'm alone I'm free to settle inwards, find my own authentic mood and follow it where it leads, unclouded by the discordant feelings triggered by others.

This is also the reason I don't relate well to events that are supposed to elicit a particular feeling. For example, I didn't feel happy or proud at my children's graduations - I felt numb and uncertain. While I expect I have all the typical feelings of any good parent - love, anger, hope, joy and sadness - they rise within me at unexpected times, and they follow no external bidding. Watching my son practice the piano at home I feel a sense of joy as he struggles to master something. At his piano recitals I feel like a bug under a glass. I check my watch when listening to my daughter in concert, but when she's singing along with the radio next to me in the car, the sound of her voice washes over me like a benediction. My wife took all the videos at events and occasions. I took my videos of them playing with their toys at home, waking up after an afternoon nap, or building an igloo after a snowstorm.

So Christmas to me is a season of inner murkiness, of feeling remote from the prevalent mood of others. I find myself looking forward to New Years Day, and longing for a season of no particular color, when I can find myself again. Hoping to awaken from my own little solstice.


contented said...

How sad that you choose to be remote from others on occasions that bring them happiness. Life is a choice. You cannot change your childhood but you can revise your reaction to it. You comment on how you saw your children as greedy yet you do not like the holiday because you feel that your siblings got more gifts than you. Could it be that you are jealous of your children's experience?

Sweating Through fog said...

Yes, my jealousy and loneliness as a child is definitely a part of this. I don't find it easy to control my feelings, but I have made the choice to hide them so as not to intrude on the good cheer around me.