I wonder exactly when it happened. I have an idea how.
When I was a kid, was such a big event each year. I grew up in a town that is famous for its Christmas festival. The streets would be strung with a cosmic number of multicolored bulbs at the beginning of December. The first Saturday of the month was the date of the fest. The town would swell from the resident population of around 15,000 people to over 100,000. I looked forward to the festival, because most of my family would come from all over the state to enjoy the celebration.
There would be two parades: a short junior parade with groups like cub and girl scouts, junior high bands, and baton twirling squads, and a larger parade with elaborate floats, high school bands, horses, and the Grand Marshall. One year, the Grand Marshall was (wow) . After the parades, bands would play on the grandstand at the edge of the river that ran through the city. When darkness closed in, a magnificent fireworks presentation would erupt over the river to the oohs and aahs of the crowd (and the cries of frightened young children). As the end of the display, the would suddenly illuminate the downtown district.
Throughout the month of December, the would twinkle, a tall tinsel tree on the grandstand would flash and play carols, and Santa would be in his small shop near the river with a ready knee to bounce the wishes out of children. In addition to the festival, I was involved in many church-related activities that added to the spirit of the season: live nativity presentations, cantatas, and . Between the doings in the city and the goings-on in my rural neighborhood, I was in a constant glow of the season.
Then I grew up … fast.
At nineteen, I got my girlfriend pregnant and we were married. She was unknowingly carrying twins; we found that out when her water broke two and a half months early. We rushed to the big city charity hospital (we were young kids… no money, no insurance). Born so prematurely (and long before more modern medicine), the two boys had the odds stacked against them from the start. One of the twins lived only 19 hours. The other lived on life support from late October through early January, innocently throwing a shadow on the holidays.
When I was 22, my mother had a massive heart attack the Sunday after . By the time she was transported to the local hospital, she had slipped into a coma. That holiday season, my family passed time visiting in the hospital with her unaware. She never regained consciousness and perished in early February of 1987.
So there you have it: the two most heartbreaking events of my life occurring during the holidays. Lots of hospital-time and sadness; little celebration and merriness. Each Christmas after those experiences reminded me of loss.
I will write off my lack of holiday interest to these two life events. My wife and I had a son after the twins. When he was a toddler, his mom and I divorced. He would visit me during the holidays and ask why I never put up a tree. As he grew older, he must have realized that it just wasn’t Dad’s bag.
Maybe it’s just the passing of time and my getting older. I really wish I could be more celebratory during Christmastime. Nowadays with the season beginning before ends and all of the pressure of shopping for the perfect gifts, it is a long two and a half months for me. Even the Christmas celebration in my hometown has been extended to include fireworks for every weekend of December, which seems a bit too much for my take. But I make sure not to complain about the holidays to others (as some do). It’s one thing to be outside of the spirit of the season; it’s another thing to rip the tinsel from the tree. I will not be a Scrooge