Sunday, November 26, 2023

A fine time

     Wonder should not be picked apart. It's too delicate, too fragile. Best appreciate it in real time, while it's happening. Then label it simply, "We had a good time," and set aside on a shelf in memory. No point writing a treatise about it. You wreck it that way.
     And so much gets wrecked as it is. Like any good cynic, I take a dim view of the forced festivity that takes place this time of year. Often quoting, in my own mind — nobody wants to hear it — lines from "Cold Comfort," a Michelle Shocked dirge: "You know, winter will soon be here. And except for the holidays, except for the holidays, it's a fine time of year."
     True, generally, and maybe that mood will set in well before Christmas.
     But it hasn't yet. This year, with the relentless dispatches of horror from Israel and Gaza, plus the ominous — no, terrifying — political situation at home — a few days off seemed in order. Time to regroup, and visit with the boys and their beloveds, our houseguests.  To do little and think about less.
     A recipe for ... surprisingly ... something special. This year the holidays caught me off guard, and I not only am enjoying them, but realized I really needed them. It wasn't so much Thanksgiving itself, which is like planning the Normandy invasion only with food. But immediately after. Just having people around. The boys and their fiances and Edie and I all went to the Chicago Botanic Garden Lightscape  Friday night. 
    And it was all so ... magical, not a term I often  employ. So much, I did something unusual, for me. I decided not to even try to write about it. The music, the sense of difference — you enter through the side of the Garden, through an enormous glowing wreath, and with the dark and the music and glowing spheres, tunnels of arches, sweeping lasers, flashing, twinkling lights, the familiar grounds become strange and wonderful.  I didn't even take many pictures, except of the kids, and I'm not sharing those, lest social media decide to judge them. 
     I hope you'll forgive me. "Not everything's for the newspaper" I sometimes say. Or the blog. I'm sure you can manage to wring wonder out of your holidays on your own. No need for a road map from me. At least not today. I don't even know if I can dredge a point out of this, to stick my landing at the end. Maybe the key is that I wasn't particularly looking forward to Lightscape — we had such a good time last year, what were the odds of topping it? And it was so warm last year — a rare November day in the low 60s. It was so cold, in the low 30s Friday. That could be trouble. And would these four adults, in their late 20s, enjoy it? As if they might not be charmed by whimsy and music and hot cocoa. In the hours before we left, my mood curdled, and I found myself exhausted and annoyed. Which turned out to be exactly the coiled crouch I needed to spring into the air, and the momentary sensation of flight, of being airborne, free of all this. Gloom turned to fascination. 
     Which might be a contradiction — seek but don't expect it. Request but don't demand. Work hard then relax into the holidays, and let them flow over you. Go and see what happens. Hang out with those who love each other and you and wait for it. Anyway, five weeks and it'll all be over and we'll find ourselves blinking at the dark, frozen expanse of January and February and March. Enjoy this if you can, while it lasts.


  1. It is for this beautiful perspective that I return here every goddamn day. Thank you...

  2. Enjoy the magic when you find it. It’s out there every day, but especially during the holidays. Peace.

  3. I'm glad you had a good visit with your sons. Holidays have taken on such huge significance and hoopla ... massive amounts of food, decorations, shopping, togetherness (forced and unforced). The overdone celebrations of privileged white people have become the norm, and was for me too, for a long time. Now, not so much. Parents, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, best friends, partners, even many pets ... all dead. It's just me, and the holidays are just days. This is not meant to be "poor me" but a recognition that the shininess promoted by the media is no longer attainable by millions, the supposed respite from the bleak global situation no respite at all.

    1. I fully understand. Times change and our lives adjust and change with them. We also can choose to create our own respite from the bleak global situation, both nationally and internationally, by avoiding it for a day or two or ten or more throughout the holiday season and even when there are no glittering lights to distract us from the bleak global situation. And the good thing about being primarily alone is that no one can force us to pay attention to the glitter of the holiday season OR to the misery of so much of the world.

      Respectfully submitted,
      Sandra S.

  4. 🚢🏽‍♀️Trans John/Karen 3/22November 26, 2023 at 9:03 AM

    Ah, but wait until the next generation starts popping up, it gets even more amazing. I’ll never have grandchildren of my own, but have managed to live vicariously through my siblings and their collective 9 children, and now another 14, with 1 more on the way, and the oldest great-niece now 20 years old, which could possibly mean…(a couple years ago she blurted out how much she LOVES babies, which drew a cautionary look from her mom:D.)…do the math, I’m quickly losing track.
    Holidays get better every year for us. Sounds like the Steinbergs (and hopefully many others) feel the same.

  5. Every year during the holidays, when it’s time to get together with the family, I get a little pessimistic about what lies ahead.
    But then when it’s over, with family members going back to their homes, I take a breath and find gratitude for being able to have these special occasions.

  6. I wrote about "the hollowday blues" (ouch) a while back, but I'm not sure I can find it. I know it was at another blof, but the owner died of the Plague and his daughter shut it down and everything went POOF. So I'll try again.

    My father was something of a reverse anti-Semite, if you get my drift. Even though one of his business partners wasn't Jewish, he was not shy about kvetching about "the goyim" (non-Jews) whenever the opportunity arose. He especially detested the Christmas season, and he passed that feeling on to me.

    From boyhood on, I hated December. The short gray days, the cold, the snow, and the long dark nights had much to do with it. I have always hated winter. But December was, to be blunt and honest, a big goyische party that I was not invited to, and wasn't allowed to attend.

    I hated the music, the decorations, the lights, the shoppers, the festivities...the whole megillah, so to speak. At fifteen, my friends and I even made a contest of seeing how many outdoor bulbs we could unscrew and steal from the Italian houses. Then we'd smash them on the pavement. It felt good.

    When I reached adulthood, I still hated Christmas. I remember working downtown and walking around in the Loop with a perpetual grinchy scowl and a cranky bah-humbug attitude. I called it the Festival of Greed. Had a number of lonely Christmases in my 20s and early 30s. Probably my own damn fault. Who wants a crabby Scrooge around at holiday time?

    Finally, I married a non-Jewish woman whose attitude was very similar. Our holiday celebrations were muted and low-key. We lit the menorah and put up a tree, and exchanged gifts with her rather small Norwegian family and with one another. But we still bitched about it, and welcomed its merciful end.

    My second wife embraces Christmas. She's of German descent. It's what they do. Decorating the house, indoors and out, up the wazoo. Cooking, baking, buying gifts all year round and hiding them and wrapping them by Halloween. Going to hear carols and choirs and chamber music and the Messiah. And so much more. Too much to document here.

    At first, I resisted, and then only grudgingly participated. I would spend the final week in a frenzy of shopping. No other word for it. And wrap everything at 2 AM on the 25th. I still do it that way, most years. Still hate going to the stores. But now I have come to enjoy the lights, the music, the decorations, the twinkling, the feeling of good cheer that envelops so many otherwise-grouchy people. I've even gone to midnight mass, in Polish and Latin. Loved it. Something I wanted to do as a teen. Wasn't allowed to go. So...I went.

    Oh, I still despise a lot of what Christmas in America entails. But my patient and creative wife has brought the beauty and the joy Christmas into my curmudgeonly world, and I thank her for it, every goddamn year.

    Only a month to go. The days whiz by, at first, because they're so short. The last ten days slow down and start to drag. Then...the Eve. The Day. In the blink of an eye, it's time to put it all back into the box for another year. And the intervals between the openings of that box, and the savoring of what's inside, seem to get shorter with the passage of time.

    Big wheel keep on turning...and never stopping...and now we''ve come around to the holiday spoke once again. Didn't we just do this? Last week...or last month? Enjoy. It will be over in the blink of an eye. And then...January and February. The abyss yawns before us. Bah, humbug.

  7. "The magic just doesn't happen by itself," per John Santoro

  8. I am so glad that this blog is one of my regulars. And whether you enjoy your dark holiday season unbridled or more muted, I hold precious the diverse perspectives and the ties to Chicagoland that i get here. Take care everyone.


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