The Good, The Bad, And The Fruitcake

Well, friends, it’s time for the annual seesaw, made even more so by the upcoming election. Week by week, day by day, hour by hour; we’re all getting ready to ride the wave.

It starts with Halloween. I’m glad i was a kid at the time and place that i was. There weren’t all these big costume stores like there are now. Most of us didn’t even get one of the uncomfortable plastic masks from Woolworth’s. We found clothes and accessories at Goodwill, or made them from things we had around the house. We painted our faces with dime-store makeup that was sure to cause a rash. We went out to trick-or-treat without our parents or a cellphone. And not only were we given far more candy than we ever needed, we were even given awesome homemade treats like popcorn balls and caramel apples that we were actually allowed to eat. It was tradition stay up past midnight and gorge until you puked candy corn.  And yes, there was always some story about a neighborhood that had someone passing out apples with razor blades or something; but the worst i ever remember was a second hand high from some pot-head teens whose door billowed sweet smoke when they appeared to give us Snickers and pennies for our UNICEF boxes. As an adult, i love spending Halloween night dressed up as the witch that i am, watching scary Vincent Price movies, and giving out treats to the few kids who still go house to house.

Into November. This year, we start off with a bang when we elect the next Commander in Chief. I truly wish the position was purely ceremonial, as neither of the likely candidates this go-round thrill me with their ability to be a banker during a random game of Monopoly, never mind the President of the United States. I love my country. I love its spirit, its diversity, its  founding principles. But regardless of which of the big two wins, i’ll be shaking my head and wondering why they were the best we could do. It isn’t always like that, tho.  In general, the buildup to a presidential election is usually an exciting trip on the upside of the seesaw.

As a kid, by mid November, the teeter totter went the other direction when you realized you’d eaten all the good candy and had nothing left but boxes of raisins in your bag. (Raisins??? Really, people??? That’s just wrong!) The only excitement was the goofy enjoyment of making pilgrim hats and turkeys out of construction paper and tempera paint. As an adult, the downside is the beginning of Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations and travel plans. You curse the inevitability of traffic jams and forgotten cans of condensed milk. You exchange your breath mints for Rolaids. You remember a time when your biggest issue was being left with raisins. Then and now, you’re stressed and frustrated til Thanksgiving.

But, oh, Thanksgiving! The one holiday with no ulterior motives. No gifts. No bashes, balls, or awkward cocktail parties. Just gratitude and a celebration of family and food. Leave your worries and fancy duds behind you. This calls for contented relaxation and elastic-waist pants. For kids, it’s a day of freedom, as the adults are tied up either preparing the meal or watching football. The soporific effect of Thanksgiving dinner is a high unlike any drug on the market. No Opiate can compete. It’s bliss. I have known big warm Thanksgivings, and some that were definitely not. But no matter how hard the year has been, there is always something to be thankful for. Even on the rare occasion that i’ve been alone on Thanksgiving – which, don’t get me wrong, really sucks – I still found myself imbued somehow with gratefulness. It’s the magic of the holiday.

After the warmth and comfort of Thanksgiving comes the downward spiral into debt and depression that is Christmas shopping. Or, the kid equivalent: Painfully long days full of anticipation. This time of year doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to. As none of my family has had the financial luck of Scrooge McDuck, there is no longer any obligatory gift-giving except to our children and parents. It is my choice to hand make smaller items for the other members of my family. The time and effort that goes into gathering supplies in relatives’ favorite colors and such, and turning out something that they can hopefully use and enjoy, makes me happy. And i’m certain it helps dissolve some of the holiday stress. Plus, it reminds me of the fictional times represented in the holiday shows that don’t really match anyone’s experience.

Christmas itself is a mixed bag for most of us. One one hand, the love and joy that comes from the spirit of the holiday. Hearing or meeting up with old friends and family. Christmas carols (And Chanukah songs – Yes, there are a few more than just the Dreidel Song, and they are wonderful!) The fun of driving past the one house in town that rivals the Griswalds’. The Heat miser, Charlie Brown, and all the other characters from the holiday television specials. Two weeks off from school! On the other hand, travelling, traffic, and crowded venues. The cardboard merriment of forced social gatherings. Worry about how to pay for it all. And as an adult, the letdown of knowing you’ve no chance of getting what you want for Christmas, because it’s a purely existential thing that can’t be bought, even on Amazon.

December 31st.  The scrubbed clean start of a new beginning. Oh, the possibilities! Such hope! Such good intentions! … And it all goes to shit when you realize that you will be alone New Year’s Eve with no one to kiss when the ball drops;  Or you have a great celebration planned with the love of your life, but all the holiday eating of the last 6 weeks means no amount of spandex is going to get you into the Little Black Dress you bought back in October.

Up and down. Hot and cold. Good and bad. It’s that time of year. Really, i suppose all of life is like that, but because there is so much packed into the next couple months, it seems more pronounced. And just like the rest of the year, a lot of the downs are problems we create for ourselves. Whether or not the boss is impressed with the jello salad we brought to the office pot-luck is not a reason to dread the holiday. Spending a holiday on our own isn’t the ideal, but it isn’t the end of the world either. We just have to make the most of it. Change any of the unpleasant things that we can, and then put the rest in perspective.

There will be times we may feel overwhelmed, lonely, or even unwanted. The times when everyone else is invited to the party, and we aren’t. The times when we open a package only to find that it contains a dusty, store-bought fruitcake. The times when the game is cancelled for rain, the power goes out before the turkey is finished, the kids are all sick with the flu,  and there’s no rum for the eggnog.  Those times are painful. But it could be worse. It could be January 2nd, and six weeks til the next holiday.

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