A great Christmas morning

May you have peace… or whatever else you need today

… to you and yours. I’m off to a good start, all things considered. The turkey is in the oven baking, and I’m listening to my cassette tapes of Handel’s “Messiah”. I woke up feeling really sick and not feeling up to doing the turkey, but my spouse is sick and I’ve done this before, so I hauled the turkey out of the refrigerator, to find that it was not in fact thawed — probably due to my having bought it only yesterday and not having soaked it very long in that sink full of cold water as my mother used to do. The neck and the giblets were still firmly frozen inside the cavity, so I ran hot water through the works, trying to loosen it up.

No such luck. And me feeling not very well at all… Ah well, soldier on… I finally just put the bird in the oven and set the timer, resolving to check it in an hour when the whole business had time to warm up. I made myself some hot lemon-honey “tea”, had my coffee and cereal, and did the math in my head for when I should start doing other things like start prepping the stuffing and vegetables I was going to roast.

I also did some of my leg exercises, since my knees have been giving me trouble, lately. Even though I have been going for long walks and have been pretty active over the past few days, my knees have been hurting — which happens if I haven’t done my morning leg lifts, which I haven’t been doing regularly for some time. Amazingly, when I do my leg lifts — straight-out front and back and to each side, and then front kicks and back-lifts — my knees get what they need and they quit complaining.

So, I did that, and my knees immediately stopped hurting. Nice when that happens. And important to remember, so I don’t let myself just go to seed for no good reason.

By the time I was done with my morning prep, about 45 minutes had passed, so I hauled out the bird, worked at the neck and bag of organ meats, and eventually got it all out. Salted the inside of the cavity and flipped it over and put it back in the oven, breast-down, because I did that by accident a number of years ago, and the breast meat was by far the most moist and tasty that I’ve ever tasted. I’ve heard people recommending that, also, no matter what the wrapper on the turkey says. The meat felt a bit more thawed, having been in the heat for a while. I may have to roast it a bit longer to make up for that… we’ll see. Anyway, I’m hoping I didn’t screw everything up — at least I’m not deep-frying it. When you deep-fry a frozen turkey, it has a nasty habit of exploding and catching the roof of your garage on fire. I’ve talked to folks at work about deep-frying turkeys, and they’re practically rabid about it. But it seems to me they’re more excited about the gear and the inherent danger, than cooking technique. For me, I’m old-school. It’s less dramatic, sure, but I’m not going to have to call the fire department on Christmas Day, this way.

And the breast meat will be just as tasty as tasty can be.

So, once I got the bird squared away, I felt a lot better about things. I’m still feeling sick and “off”, and I’m not sure I 100% trust my judgement (which has been a bit off, with regard to time and things I need to do in a certain order), but I’m rolling with it, and I’m just going to enjoy myself this morning.

One of the things I had been meaning to do, but kept forgetting, is pull out my old cassette tapes of Handel’s Messiah that I got for Christmas while I was in college. My parents used to celebrate the Christmas season by playing their Mormon Tabernacle Choir “Messiah” record, and it was one of my favorite parts of the season. The “Little Drummer Boy” upset me intensely, for some reason, but Handel’s “Messiah” really put me in the Christmas spirit. Each and every time.

When I got the cassettes for Christmas, it was like — well, Christmas. I had my own copy that I could listen to! Amazing. Joy unbounded. It wasn’t a big thing, and thinking back now — when we are all swimming in so much plenty and bounty and easy access to each and every thing we could ever want or ask for — it seems so small-time, so modest. But it was seriously one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received. I used to listen to those cassettes repeatedly during Christmastime while I was in school. It drove the folks on my hall nuts; they would pretty much vacate and leave me to my music, then reappear when it was safe to just hang out and drink beer again. They didn’t get it, and I didn’t care. The voices of the choir were transcendent, and it reminded me of what was actually right about my childhood — those relatively brief periods of transcendent emotion and beauty… Yes, there was something right in my world, and with those cassettes I could relive that and remember, for as long as I played them.

Well, this morning I’m playing them, and it’s pretty clear to me why the world has moved on to MP3s and digital formats — the cassettes are easily over 30 years old — copyright 1979 — and the tape has stretched and warped with age. The voices are warbling and at times halting. It’s not the smooth and easily transcendent presentation it once was. And there’s the constant worry that the tape will get wrapped around the spools and end up getting “eaten” by the tape player, the way so many cassettes did when I was much younger — and the world still had cassettes… and cassette players in all the stereos and cars coming off the assembly line.

Yeah, I must be getting old, it occurs to me, as I resolve to just not care about the sound quality, and I can appreciate the experience for what it is, rather than how I think it should be. I know what to ask for, for Christmas next year — a CD of Handel’s “Messiah” that I can listen to without the warbling and hesitating and angst over the tape getting eaten.

At the same time, though, there’s something quite poignant about this experience. It has a kind of character to it that places me in time — the natural order of things is to change and alter and become something different. Sometimes the changes mean degradation, dissolution, disintegration. Sometimes they mean entropy. And sometimes it means improvement, growth, evolution. But even the degrading, dissolving, disintegration are all part of a larger cycle, a larger set of movements into the future… nothing stays the same forever, nor should it. It’s just a little creepy, when it does. At least, I think so.

Things change. Cassettes wear out. And each year when my spouse and I put up the Christmas tree and hang the ornaments, we have a little harder time remembering where each one came from. We’ve been together for over 20 years, and each of us brought to the marriage items from our separate pasts. Did that ornament come from Before Us? Or did we buy it together early on? And where the hell are all those lights and ornaments that we both know we had three years before, but haven’t been able to locate for the past couple of Christmases? We’ve started taking turns looking for items in the basement — I go down first and bring back everything I can find, then they go down and find everything I was blind to. Between the two of us, we’ve managed to piece things together — even if we got a late start this year and didn’t even put up and trim the tree till Christmas Eve.

At least we got it done. And lots of people do it that way, too. My relatives in Europe, for example. The don’t even start thinking about decorating till Christmas Eve. So, I comfort myself with that thought and decide not to get worked up over it. There are other battles to fight, other things to correct — timing of tree trimming isn’t one I want to worry about.

And Handel’s “Messiah” warbles on. I’m almost at the end of Side Two of Cassette One. I’m not sure if I’m going to finish the music before I wake up my spouse and we go downstairs to have our morning coffee and open presents. As long as I get in the Hallelujah Chorus (and stand up while it’s playing), I’m good. My spouse is not a big fan of “Messiah” — too maudlin, they say. Well, it’s not for everyone… especially those who don’t care about hearing how “by His stripes we are healed”, which is what they’re singing right now.

There is something to be said for focusing on life, rather than suffering and death, but it all seems to get mixed together on Christmas morning, which in some parts of the world is really just a prelude to the Passion and Easter and the reminders of suffering and death that precede resurrection.

Not to get off on a theological thread… even though I am listening to “Messiah”… anyway, I’ve been thinking about how we’ve pretty much trashed the whole Christmas experience, over the past 30 years of wild, abandoned consumption… and now that the unbridled buy-buy-buy has been so scaled back for so many of us (at least, it has for me), Christmas just isn’t the same as it used to be. When I was a kid, it was a strictly religious experience, and since my family really didn’t have much to begin with, and the focus was extremely Christian and tradition, the whole gift-giving thing was not that big of a deal. If anything, gift-giving was awkward and sometimes painful, because of all the conflicts between what we kids wanted and what our parents were willing (and able) to give us, and the “outside world” commercialism competing with the “reason for the season”… the whole deal.

It was never easy to begin with. But in the past few years, it’s gotten even more challenging, as money has been such a problem with so many of us in my family… and we’ve had a harder and harder time just getting together, period. Somehow, the season just doesn’t seem the same as it once did. Maybe it’s because of my job, which keeps me out of my present by forcing me to be constantly planning the future and thinking about everything I do in terms of how it affects things 6-12 months down the line… Maybe it’s my conscious choice to refuse to participate in the wild consumption of the season, that’s changed things.

Whatever the reason, Christmas seems totally trashed in mainstream society — I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said by many, many people over the course of many, many years. It’s gone from being a season of giving to being a cornerstone of the American economy, so it’s almost like we’re obligated to spend and spend and spend (I had a good laugh at Best Buy yesterday, as I looked at headphones — headphones!!! – that cost over $200 — oh.my.god — someone must surely be kidding…) And people who build their holiday season around buying and giving those kinds of gifts (many members of my family included), seem, well, kind of sad to me. Like there’s nothing more to it all for them.

But as long as they go to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, their holidays are complete.

Not so much for me. First, I don’t have the money to spend like some of my relatives. Second, going to church on Christmas Eve isn’t something I do anymore. I realized a few years back that it is in fact pretty hazardous, because so many people with colds and flu (and their kids) turn out and occupy the same space for a few hours — just long enough to share their infections with me, which has proven truly terrible in the past. My holidays are different. My Christmas is different. I don’t celebrate the way others do, but I do want to celebrate — I really do.

So, here’s what I did this year: I went about my everyday life with a real sense of gratitude and peace. Not sure where it all came from, but I decided I was going to do that, no matter what. I gave when and where I could — I did my best to be helpful to people around me without over-extending myself. I also bought extra groceries every time I went shopping, and I put them in the food pantry bin at the grocery store. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something. I also paid attention to what people were doing around me, and if someone needed help, I at least offered. They didn’t always take me up on my offer, but at least I offered. I also slowed down. I quit driving like an a**hole on my way to and from work. I took my time. I listened to music. I didn’t focus on the speedometer, and when someone ahead of me was going slower than they should have been, I either passed them when I had dotted lines, or I came up with some story about why they had good reason to go slow — and why it was good for me that they weren’t driving as fast as I wanted to.

I didn’t get into the regular Christmas spirit much at all, I have to admit. It was just pretty much lost on me — just a lot more commercials, a lot of lights, a lot of reasons to go out and spend more money, and events to interrupt the flow of my daily life. But in retrospect, I think the way I lived my life was more meaningful this year, than it has been in prior years, when I was “in the holiday spirit”.

Well, I’d better go check the turkey. And wake up my spouse, so we can open our presents. It’s Christmas morning, and it’s going to be a good one.