Friday, December 30, 2011

Making Merry

"I don't myself make merry at Christmas."
- Ebenezer Scrooge

"You can't be merry by yourself. Sure, you can be content, happy, possibly even delirious. But merriment requires a group, and that group is almost always a group you can see and touch, one that's sharing the same molecules of air, face to face. The digital revolution continues to get deeper, wider and more important. But it has made no progress at all at increasing merriment. That's up to us."
- Seth Godin

I have two favourite Christmas movies. One is utterly silly and the other has Muppets.

The first is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation; the second is The Muppets' Christmas Carol. The first movie resonates with my traditions: when we brought home a wrapped IKEA Christmas tree this year and prepared to cut the cords that bound it, I called my husband Sparky and prepared for the windows to be blown out. The second movie resonates with my heart: Michael Caine plays Scrooge straight, despite the fact that his fellow thespians are largely puppets.

Both films are stories of second chances, I suppose, but they're also both stories about learning to appreciate the people around you, whether it's Cousin Eddie or Bob Cratchit.

One of the things I have most appreciated this holiday season has been the opportunity to make merry with groups of people. We have hosted more events than usual and have attended a number of parties with friends and family.

Maybe it's because I'm working from home mostly. Maybe it's because this year was not the easiest or nicest. All I know is that I've been so happy to make merry with others, so thankful for the gifts of people in my life.

For most of my life, Christmas has been a challenge for me mostly because I want to make it perfect, want to savour every moment, want to find the elusive balance between spirit and shopping mall.

What I want to pack away with the ornaments so that I can pull it out next year and every year is this: no Christmas is perfect, no balance is ever struck, no one can be so mindful as to attend to every moment.

Nor is this necessary.

What is necessary is the giving and receiving of hospitality - not necessarily in terms of food and drink, although those are really good too -- but in terms of welcoming one another, remembering one another. It's about doing the best we can to celebrate together, to make surprises for one another, to create good memories together. It's about making merry -- something we really can't do alone or even virtually.

I think of the first Christmas, which was probably not a silent night. In my imagination, the innkeeper who found a place for the holy family has a wife who cannot sleep for the sounds of the young girl in labour and who comes and lets her hand be wrung by Mary, and who washes the baby, calms the father, finds a bite of food for an exhausted new mother. Shepherds and angels come too, and animals surround them with their soft sounds and comforting smells. And later, the kings bearing tributes that point us now to gift giving.

Maybe these lessons shouldn't be packed away, but instead tied to the doorposts. Scrooge said, "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." What I take from that tonight -- my stomach and heart full after a good, good night with dear friends -- is that we don't live our lives alone: we are surrounded by people to whom we can extend and receive hospitality on any occasion, even if that hospitality is only, or especially, that of a listening ear, a presence.

And together, as not alone, we can be merry.

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