Silent night? Not tonight. No sleep for you. After church, you have bread to bake, two bicycles to assemble and about 26 gifts to wrap that you waited until the last minute to buy – because you’re old-school like that.
Well, maybe some sleep after some eggnog. The proper kind. But it won’t be sound sleep. Maybe two or three hours. And just as the sun begins to peek through the shades, they will be at your bedside. Sure, you’ll try to ignore them at first. Pretend to be a log, a rock – anything. Pretend to be dead. (You probably wish you were.)
Holidays are a joy and trial because families are a joy and trial. Take it from California’s best ancient Greek tragedian.
You say what they say and plead what they plead. “Go away.” “Leave me alone.” “Just five more minutes.” “Another five minutes.” “Ten more minutes.” Forget it. It’s futile.
Evidently, Santa drank too much nog and left cookie crumbs all over the floor. Or maybe it was the cat. Either way, now you have ants. Twenty minutes later, the kids are vibrating with excitement and, if you are Christian, you try to remember it’s a holy day. Be patient and charitable. Be kind. Mumble the curses rather than shout them.
Ah, but it’s easy to forget the virtues when so much is on the line. Your teenaged son wanted a different smartphone, which is back-ordered through February. Your daughter wanted a different doll, which cost $150 more. Oh, and the cat broke an heirloom ornament. But your spouse smiles at the ugly sweater and you needed the new socks.
Your living room looks like a bomb exploded in a wrapping paper factory. And it’s only 7:30 a.m.
Guests are coming in a few hours and your thermostat is on the fritz. It’s Christmas and you ran out of batteries.
You burned the roast. You burned the goose. (Do people still do goose?) You burned the ham. You burned the green beans. You burned the water for the green beans. (How is that even possible?) The hors-d’oeuvres are half frozen. It’s fine. At least the company is pleasant.
Your father won’t shut up about some cable news personality you’ve never heard of and would never watch. Your uncle won’t shut up about the NFL – bankruptcy can’t come soon enough. Your cousin won’t shut up about some outrage, real or imagined, by the president.
Your dog is whining incessantly – give him some of the burned roast, maybe that will shut him up.
In the middle of it all, a thought bubbles up – a line from a poem you read many years ago that etched itself into your memory.
Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you.
If you happen to know the poem, you may find the juxtaposition a little ironic, maybe a touch mordant on an ostensibly joyous occasion. Robinson Jeffers, California’s greatest ancient Greek tragedian, wrote bleak, brilliant blank verse. Public men publish falsehoods. Republics shine and perish. Families fray. Friends falter. Lovers die. And the poet admonishes:
Let boys want pleasure, and men
Struggle for power, and women perhaps for fame,
And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.
Every holiday is a joy and a trial because every family is a joy and a trial. Personally, all I want for Christmas this year is a little sanity, perhaps a moment or two of silence, knowing the noise will resume in earnest the day after tomorrow. The holidays, after all, bring promise of redemption, even to the irredeemable. Miracles are rare, but they do happen.
Remember that, and Christmas can never really be ruined – even if the roast is. Merry Christmas, and cheers.