Last week on Wednesday and Thursday, I helped set up for the Fremont Art Council's "Feast of the Winter Solstice." The feast is a huge community potluck featuring local art, live music, dance performances, and a solstice ritual. It was quite an undertaking to transform an empty warehouse into a beautiful, festive celebration space. Volunteers decorated like crazy, hanging chandeliers, banners, and lanterns, making a tea-room/chill area, painting a Mayan mandala on the floor, setting up a stage and altar, and hanging cedar boughs EVERYWHERE.
When I got there Friday after work, I couldn't believe how lovely and ambient the completed space was. There was a massive amount of food- even taking tiny spoonfuls, I couldn't try everything. (Photos by Matt Freedman)
At this time of year there is a lot of hope, optimism, and sense of abundance. We make so much food! We give to local charities! Presents sit piled under the tree! We will make awesome changes in the New Year! Maybe that's why, when things aren't looking so grand, they feel especially painful. Scarcity and inequalities stand out in harsh, harsh contrast. I almost started crying seeing the homeless man asking for spare change on the corner.
That weekend, a lot of old high school friends were back in town for Christmas. I met up for beers with one who recently moved to the east coast. We were reminiscing about high school, and she said how hard it was for her. "I didn't really have any friends coming from a different school... but I guess I hid it well." She talked about eating lunch alone in the library, at the end of a row of stacks. And how being seen by other students was like a mutual confession- they had "caught" you, but they were there too in their loneliness.
After that I headed to a bar in Greenwood to meet a big clan of old friends and acquaintances. I didn't feel like drinking- maybe the trippiness of the reunion was enough mental altering. I wanted to catch up, and was curious how people were doing, but really didn't want to make small talk. I wanted to joke and dance and sing along to the karaoke. It was like being back in the mid-to-late nineties, with people singing Weezer and the Offspring and Alanis Morissette. There were so many memories wrapped up in those melodies. Then a group sang "What's Up?" by 4 Non Blondes, and the whole bar was belting out the chorus.
And so I cry sometimes when I'm lying in bed
Just to get it all out what's in my head
And I, I am feeling, a little peculiar
So I wake in the morning and I step outside
I take a deep breathe and I get real high
And I scream at the top of my lungs
"What's going on?"
Even though that song was a favorite way back in middle school, you're never too old to sing your heart out. I had already had a sore throat and now it was worse. But something had been released. On Monday I worked early, barely able to talk, then went running, then had to run errands. I really didn't want to drive around in the Christmas Eve madness, but I had forgotten to get strawberries and I REALLY wanted to make these little santas. (Photo by Cheyenne Vollrath)
On Christmas morning, I had a nice time at my mom's house with my step-dad and brother. It was the smallest Christmas morning I've ever had though. I have 5 siblings, and am used to most of them being there, along with their partners/spouses and kids. This year, by comparison, it felt empty and disjointed. All of us kids are getting older, having more kids, and wanting time with that new nuclear family. So I guess it is just the natural progression of things, but it means traditions are changing. And that's hard, especially at Christmas. I read a great NY Times article called Our Family Christmas, Rescinded about that, though more about the mom changing tradition than the kids. It had some lines that were spot-on:
We want our comforting traditions to stay suspended in sap while our families constantly revise their understanding of us like software that updates automatically. Instead, traditions crumble and nostalgia yields to melancholy, but our identities, to our families, are as fixed and stagnant as fossils behind glass.
Anxious to demonstrate how mature and flexible we’ve become, we return to our birthplaces and we’re cut down to size, encountered as predictable once again. Disappointment and longing well up on a last-minute trip to the shopping mall...
And so I tried my hardest to be flexible and accept change. I sorely missed my sisters but also remembered that it was a blessing to have sisters I loved so much. And I remembered my friend Lindsey's advice from years ago: "Seriously Amber, you don't have to make everything so goddamn symbolic!" On one hand, Christmas is just one lavish day of the year, and any complaints about it sound like First-World problems. On the other hand, it holds place as some sort of family litmus test or functionality microcosm, so anything going wrong feels cataclysmic on a bigger life scale. But I'm taking this Merryish Christmas for just what it is, feasts and tiny beautiful babies and scream-singing and not talking at all and crying and laughing and figuring out how to go up from here next year.