“Stay out super late tonight picking apples, making pies

put a little something in our lemonade and take it with us

we’re half-awake in a fake empire

we’re half-awake in a fake empire”

Every Christmas since I became old enough to really think about the spirit of giving as opposed to just the spirit of receiving (hey, so it turns out Santa does exist, just not as little kids like to imagine him) I’ve struggled to find a way to appreciate the holiday – or at least, appreciate it as much as I did when I was a kid. The same goes for my birthday. It seems like we place less and less emphasis on it each year – we get the tree later, we skimp on decorating, presents, carols, preparation, we dread the christmas parties instead of looking forward to them, we tuck our sentimental side away as we struggle to get gifts for each other when we don’t know what we want ourselves. 

This in stark contrast to what I recall as being the perfect Christmas. I think I was between the ages of ten and twelve, and we went down to our neighbor’s house for Christmas Eve dinner. I knew Santa didn’t exist, but I hadn’t yet become disconnected from the wonder that a child experiences on Christmas Eve. Together, two families of four met to eat dinner while it snowed outside. By about midnight, six or seven inches of snow had accumulated – I know, because we all put on our boots and our winter garb and went out and ran around in it. At midnight, with the streetlights winking above us, and the smell of pine trees, and the snow always falling. I think I was cold. I don’t remember. Eventually we returned indoors, warmed up, drank some hot chocolate, and then finally returned home at around two or three in the morning. The next day we opened our presents, drank some more hot chocolate, and took our leisurely time in getting to my grandma’s house (where we must, by necessity, go every year). I think it was perfect. 

Ever since then, up until yesterday, the rate of decline in the quality of my Christmases has been steep. I think what happened was, I gradually began to care less and less about the buildup to Christmas, and then when the celebration day actually came up, was extremely conscious that I should have been much, much more excited to open and give presents. It was a kind of existential awakening, in a way. Twenty-four hours of christmas day suddenly seemed too short, whether I stayed up all night or not. The all-too short hour or so that it took to open presents was so massively disappointing that I began to wish that we would wrap the presents and then just leave them there. I would get depressed upon seeing the tree devoid of presents. It became more about the nostalgia than about the actual Christmas, and that was when I got clued in to the fact that I was missing something. 

So for a few years, I tried desperately to cling happily onto every minute of those so-called “joyous” hours of Christmas. Of course, as one wise philosopher (Calvin and Hobbes, perhaps?) observed, the harder you try to hold onto time, the faster it slips through your hands. And for several years in a row, I was left with nothing. 

This Christmas, though, something clicked, although perhaps too late. Two things changed: first, my sister and I managed to both get each other fantastic gifts, things that both of us had wanted for a long time but didn’t expect. Something about the knowledge that, with just one, relatively inexpensive present, I had made Elena happy (and ditto for her) really made Christmas special for me. It was really the spirit of the holiday, so much more so than the superficial (though of course desired) books, CDs, video games, and other miscellaneous things we usually get for each other. How much better is it to anticipate someone’s wish list than to read it and buy straight from it? And then, at around 10:30 last night, I made the second realization, and it was something I should have believed as soon as I heard it in France: the key to enjoying it is just to let go. I tried way too hard to cling onto the spirit of Christmas, when in fact the best (perhaps only) way to really appreciate it is just let go – let it come, let it slide by, don’t try to hold it, stop it, or control it. 

And I think that applies to a lot more than just Christmas. I think maybe I should have listened to Even and Woody in France a bit more.