Monday, December 24, 2007

Rambling thoughts about the holidays.

I’m not a big holiday person though I do like excuses to see friends and to spend time with loved ones. And I like the December holidays. Contrary to the culture-bound Christianists in the U.S. saying Happy Holidays is quite appropriate (and respectful of others) since there are several holidays for different groups during December and we have New Years Eve and Eastern Orthodox Christians have Christmas in early January.

I don’t mind if someone says Merry Christmas to me because the Christmas holiday is more than a Christian celebration. In fact the major facets of the holiday, from the tree to the gift giving, all have their origins in non-Christian practices and holidays that were practices long before the Catholic Church adopted the holiday for the Christian faith. I’ve come to appreciate the Solstice concept which emphasizes the end of Winter and the return of warmth and the life-giving Sun.

Certainly in my days in the American Mid-West that was a good thing to celebrate. My last winter there went below freezing on Thanksgiving day and didn’t creep above that mark again until sometime in late February. We were told that our average temperature that winter had been colder than in Moscow for the same year. I believe it. From that point I tried to avoid snow as much as possible.

I’ve lived in the southern hemisphere where the holiday comes at the height of summer and we’d take a dip in the pool before having a Christmas braai (bar-b-que for the Yanks).

And I’ve done the holiday where I’m with family and others without family. I’ve had intimate holidays with just one special person in my life and I’ve done Christmas where I’ve filled the house or apartment with people I know who had no where else to go for the holidays and created my own family. And I’ve had some years where it was just me in a foreign city having a TV dinner in my flat alone.

I think the luckiest Christmas was one where I didn’t get to do what I had wanted. I wanted to take someone with me to Phuket, Thailand for a few days in the sun. But it was going to be a last minute arrangement. I called and called travel agent after travel agent trying to find the right package. But no one could get us into any of the resorts. I checked Tahiti, no luck. I checked Fiji, same story. I looked at the Gold Coast in Queensland, full up. And finally decided on four days in Sydney.

We flew in Christmas Day and checked into the hotel. One look at the tiny room and we checked right out again and transfered to a lovely hotel overlooking Darling Harbour. The room was spacious and pleasant. We had Christmas dinner on the harbor and then retired to begin exploring the next day.

Before setting out to explore the city, as we were dressing I turned on the news to see the horrific story of the Boxing Day (December 26th) Tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people. The tsunami had struck Phuket, which is where we would have been had I been successful. The film of the resorts in Phuket being destroyed by the massive tidal wave was something I would never forget.

This year I’ll be having Christmas in San Francisco. A friend from England, where I’ve spent about six months over the last year is coming to visit. I head out to the airport shortly and then we get straight into things. I hope she got some sleep on the plane because its a full day. First we stop for lunch and then drive to the top of Twin Peaks for the breathtaking full view of the City. And San Francisco is one city that deserves to be called The City -- as locals tend to do.

Then we go for some driving around and head to the old Castro Theater for a concert for tonight. Tomorrow it is up into the Oakland hills for Christmas Dinner with a good friend and ex of mine. I curious to see the house itself, which I’ve read about on the internet. I hear it took 13 years to finish all the building and includes a magic theater several museum collections of fun things -- like old arcade games, and some amazing collections. There is a movie theater with 18,000 films. There are hidden doors, a haunted house and more. Yet this is residence not a theme park -- though many a theme park apparently has come here to die --- there is a lot of bits and pieces from the old Playland at the Beach, which closed in the 1970s if I remember correctly, on display here. And since they also own a circus I’m told to expect a few circus performers at the Christmas meal with us -- at one point I understand about 100 of them temporarily lived in the house. Since it’s not open to the public as a general rule having Christmas there is certainly going to be unique.

Then for Boxing Day we are back into San Francisco for the day to see the sites. There is obligatory stop at Nieman Marcus on Union Square if only to see the magnificent Christmas tree they erect every year. In my years living in The City I always had a live three, usually somewhere between 8 and 10 feet tall -- having 12 foot ceilings had an advantage. And then every New Year Day we’d dismantle the tree and cut it up and have a lovely fire in the fireplace that usually got so warm we had to open the windows.

After the first three days we’ll be winging it. The weather during the later part of the week is iffy but there is a get together of friends that we’ll probably do. And my English friend will be taken to the gun range on Saturday -- she likes to shoot and can’t do that sort of thing in Nanny-state England. It’s only a week but it should be fun.

Is there a real message here. No, not really. It’s just a discussion about holidays and friends and family and loved ones. If there is a theme it is about connecting to people. Celebrate the people in your life not the day. The tsunami incident tells me to enjoy life since you never know when it might end. And if there is one bit of advice I would give -- it is to remember those who might be alone this Christmas. I’ve been there and it can be awful. The holidays can be great when you are able to share them with others but terrible lonely when you can’t. If you aren’t able to share the holidays with a family then make your family. You won’t regret it.

Photo: The photo is something of a childhood memory. My grandmother used to take me to the Christmas Party at Marhshall Field's, the famed Chicago department store. It was always exciting though never had the appeal of the initmate gatherings I preferred later in life. But I certainly did love the Frango chocolates you could get from them and she used to send them to me regularly.

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