Why you should care
Because these 36 days might generate more feeling than the entire rest of the year.
The author is an OZY essayist who has published numerous books.
Thirty-six days. Between Thanksgiving and the New Year, there are just 36 days, but they generate more emotion than maybe all the other days of the year combined. We plan, prepare, reenact traditions, celebrate. We look forward to gathering with friends and family. Some of us dance and even sing the carols of old, while the young examine our faces to get a better look at their future. Attempting not to bore them, occasionally we play a song or two to keep them happy. But the truth is, many of us are not. To me, holiday festivities are an attempt to ignite an inner flame that has lost its gleam. The promise is love, a cease-fire in family squabbles, peace. But no one can escape the brutal truth: Time allows each and every one of us only a certain number of holidays.
This year, several of my family members will not be present, and neither will many of yours. Some have passed on. At the table, their chairs are now empty; their memories have become distant, even hollow. Hollow days, these. Like birthdays of a loved one or the anniversary of the passing of that person nearest to our hearts. Such days leave us with a tremendous cavity inside, an emptiness that for most is immeasurable.
The calendar is not unlike the clock. Just as our clock ticks endlessly, the calendar consumes the days, one unceasing tick at a time. Deep-seated emotions come out these 36 days. We are drawn in by the carving of a freshly baked turkey, smoked and tantalizingly seasoned, cooked slowly like the drive a couple takes along the coast when they have no apparent place to be. Its aroma makes our taste buds dance. Our mouths are watering; our eyes have filled our bellies with anticipation. We now are seated around the table as we are summoned to give thanks. And wouldn’t you know it, there is always someone there who seems to know God personally, my Aunt “Long-Winded” Gladys is chosen (or self-appointed) to do the prayer; so the salivation continues as we lift our thanks upward. Shortly after we say amen, we will begin to satisfy our appetites.
At the end of the table: an empty chair. For years, it’d been occupied by a soul we call Granny. As we glance at the empty chair, one at a time, we feel the vacancy. Though she’s been gone for some time, we all know that seat belonged to the reason we’re all blessed to be here, so we pray. The blues has indirectly found its way in and about the room. Unconsciously, many of us begin to weep in unison, but this time as we weep, we smile. Just as Granny would’ve wanted us to. Simultaneously, we begin to connect with our spirits and hug one another from a distance, as we emotionally connect from afar.
Christmas Day, four weeks later, we stand, festively attired, below the mistletoe now hung over the front door of our late grandmother’s house. The smell of candied yams, collard greens, turkey and dressing, the vapors, swirl around us. The songs of Christmas play vehemently throughout as both the young and old unwrap presents. We dance. We hug, remembering those who were there and those who have gone on to be with our Father in Heaven. Even as we gird ourselves against the cruel or passive-aggressive quips by backstabbing family members — don’t act surprised, for we’ve all got them— we are here to celebrate. We’ve promised to check our differences at the door. This is family.
We have an imaginary stocking that we try to fill with everything we hope for — that we hope, even believe, will be filled with a package of joy come Christmas morning. Yes, my package is coming for sure. I’ll be ready; it’ll have my name on it. And inside will be lots of “Rest now: The wait for joy is finally over” coupons. Yes, there will be plenty, and I will share them … because that’s who I am.
Oh, how I’ve wanted this scenario to be real. But it lies only in my imagination. In my life, my heart has never known the joy I speak of, nor has my soul ever danced to the cadence of the music originated by the holidays. For the hollow days have never been good days for me; my granny has never occupied that chair. The mistletoe has never hung over the front door, and the warmth that true love summons, and joy, for that matter, has for the most part eluded me. But what would I be without my imagination? Who would I be without the music that plays endlessly for these 36 days?
You tell me: It’s your holiday as well.