Sunday Morning ~ The Eyes of a Christmas Snail
Kuona maso a nkhono n’kudekha/ kufatsa. ~ To see the eyes of a snail you must be quiet and patient.
~ Chewa proverb
December 27, 2020
Christmas week has been the most quiet I’ve ever experienced. I am not complaining. I started railing against the Christmas machine as soon as I had kids and was expected to comply with the unalterable routine of my in-laws. They had good reason to attach themselves to Christmas rituals. Rituals are a valuable comfort and the family had a daughter/ sister taken from them on Christmas Eve. I was sorry and sympathetic about what they experienced, how could you not be? But after several years the routine had little to do with memorializing and a lot to do with thousands of presents. Declining the invitation was not an option. No excuses. Even having to work was invalid. Get there when the shift is over, no questions or complaints tolerated. It became a noose around my neck. I tried to extricate our young little family. I was told if I just went along uncomplainingly, everything would be fine. I was the one causing the problem.
Christmas was the thing we argued about most intensely in my marriage. Every time I tried to reason that we create our own Christmas traditions (smaller, more moderate), in his eyes I became the drunk driver who killed his sister. It seemed he subconsciously thought if we did everything exactly the same, year after year, somehow she would still be alive. That was my analysis anyway, we couldn’t go deeply into it during the arguments and I wasn’t insightful enough about this until long after he was gone. At the time I felt like he valued his family more than me. My anger didn’t matter as he saw it as temporary; I’d eventually get over it if he waited it out. Instead, my anger simmered until the following year when it started to boil again. So, Christmases were hard.
When we were young parents with three babies we lived an hour and a half away from our families. I usually had to work part of the holiday, either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and it was stressful. I was a visiting nurse and loved my home-bound patients. I should have been able to relish that and weave a Christmas celebration around it. We had no money; I was making six dollars an hour and my husband was a student. We made presents for everyone because we couldn’t afford to buy them. I complied with gift giving rules, pretended to enjoy what I called the glut fest, and then we’d fight all the way home. I felt the money spent on our presents could have fed us for months. What I remember most about those years is not the warm glow of advertised family togetherness, but exhaustion, worry, sleep deprivation, arguments about having to leave one house to get to the other in time for another meal we were not hungry for. I paid a price and no one benefitted. Trying to do it all, be what everyone expected, disappointing myself with unrealistic expectations, believing this year would be better, led to the pleasing of no one, marital strain, and tears. I started dreading Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. The only comforting thought I had when my husband left me was the thought of Christmas without him. When the rest of my life collapsed I finally got the Christmas I wanted: quiet, peaceful, spiritual, loving.
I remember talking with my neighbor and dear friend back then about the obligatory Christmas nightmare and she commiserated. She’d also dealt with family traditions that didn’t blend well with her marriage. I said, “You know what I think is the cause of all this Christmas grief? Mass transportation. If we didn’t have a car and good roads we would not be expected to travel to two houses in a day a hundred miles away.” That analysis illuminated her face. “You are right! Without snowplows we wouldn’t be expected to get anywhere!” Yup, we would be hunkered down, cuddling, talking, praying, and playing among those within walking distance. We could go to bed at a reasonable hour! We could be rested! The thought had made me long for the horse and buggy days. I’ve asked myself many times in my life, why was I born into this century? Even chamber pots seemed preferable.
And here we are, celebrating Christmas in an old fashioned pandemic. Introverts of the world rejoice! I am not an introvert, but much prefer my socializing around the perimeter of this holiday, let’s say in March when days are longer and pressure is off. But no matter how many times “the true meaning of Christmas” has been layered upon us, it’s been more a reminder of what slipped away rather than a reckoning. But this year gave us a chance to look for the eyes of the snail, measure the weight of our holiday baggage, and decide what we can unpack and leave behind.
Love to all,