I am the only child of parents who died in 1995 and 2001. My father was in the military for almost 30 years, for the last half of which I was on the scene, my small, taciturn family trundling its shit from base to base every two or three years.
I like to tell people there were Christmases when all I got was a sock with oranges and walnuts in it. This is true, too, if you make that singular "Christmas" and understand that the exaggeration is meant to convey the fact that plenty of other Christmases and birthdays were meager too, though not quite as much.
The military paid little to NCOs and their dependents, but then we got health care, a quality on-base education for me, and, on holidays, a free meal from the NCO club, sometimes served in an open hangar due to the crowd overflow.
As I recall, I spent only two Christmases in the company of grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins, so my extended family was (is) distant and largely unknown to me.
For the past nine years, I have spent Christmas alone or out at restaurants with friends who now have real boyfriends or still have family requiring their attentions at this time of year. Early on there were attempts to include me in other families' festivities, and these were fun and enlightening, of, if nothing else, the fact that my own family had been peculiarly unjolly at this time of year.
But on the whole I prefer to spend the day by myself. The loneliness of only children is sometimes exaggerated. I don't mean that we don't feel loneliness, and deeply, but I suspect it's considerably less traumatic for us. As for me, my father and my mother were asocial and uncommunicative to the extent that, now, the company of a good book or something on television brings back my fondest Christmas memories of childhood--which glow of nostalgia more than balances off the, truth be told, rather comforting loneliness.
For the past five years or so, I have tried to expropriate the season with a party of my own the first Saturday of December. After this party, I usually feel the holiday is over, except to join in on other people's parties and to surprise myself repeatedly when I realize that we have still not reached the 25th. Last year I went so far as to take down all my holiday decorations on December 6th! But this year is different.
As I mentioned yesterday, I am feeling an odd-for-me Christmas-y vibe. I'm looking forward to Saturday, by myself with my dog.
Among other stops planned for today--getting said dog his rabies booster, seeing True Grit with Kirsten, and downing a few evening cocktails with Barbara and Shane--I plan to pick up a pre-ordered Honey Baked Ham (R) with untrademarked mashed potatoes and green bean casserole, and buy myself a few presents ("from Santa") to open Christmas morning, just for kicks--not that I have been neglected, not at all, I already greedily tore through all the presents my friends plied me with, except for a gift card for a massage, which I'm saving for after Christmas.
I hope I am conveying the fact that I am not sad. Otherwise I'm missing the point. I do not suffer from seasonal affect disorder. I rather like the long nights, and the low temperatures tend to highlight the coziness of homes and bring out the most affectionate natures in pets and friends. To be sure, I prefer spring, season of my favorite holiday, my birthday, but winter is good, too. And this winter seems to me, for some reason, particularly dreamy.
There is a sweetness to loneliness that often gets overlooked. Perhaps I feel it as I do because I'm an introvert or because, as I mentioned, it's my nostalgia. I don't pity the lonely, only those who cannot understand the pleasure of filling one's space with oneself. On days like these, I occasionally like to drift through my home like a docent in a private museum, touching objects my friends and lovers have given me, remembering the stories behind them, and amusing myself with the quirky things only I would want and buy for myself ... by myself.
I also like to use these times to reinvent myself, make blueprints for whatever courageous follies await me. For me, a secular humanist, Christmas is the time of year when the year's record has played out, and all that's left is the soothing tick-tick-tick of the needle bumping against the center label, waiting to be turned over and then replaced with something new.