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Commentary: Fa La La La La

By Stephen Whitley, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX –

I was on the phone to my psychic the other day, and we were discussing our respective plans for the holidays. He said he was going to keep the holidays simple this year and not decorate the whole house, only the living room. I plan to keep it even simpler than that. I don't plan to decorate at all this year. In fact, I would just as soon the holidays pass me by altogether.

I don't know how it's come to this. I used to love the holidays. When I was growing up, I looked forward with anticipation the arrival of Santa Claus and my bundle of toys and candy. I would anxiously await the night when my Mom, sister and I would decorate the Christmas tree and then sing "O Christmas Tree." I would go in to the living room each afternoon after school to look to see if there were any new presents for me under the tree, gently shaking any new ones to see if I could guess what they were. I remember my Mom teaching my sister and I Christmas carols as she put on her makeup in the morning. You haven't lived until your mother sings "White Christmas" to you as she curls her hair.

Every Christmas morning I would awaken before anyone else in the house and sneak in and peek into the living room to see what Santa had brought the night before. I loved opening all the presents, comparing stocking stuffers with my sister, and generally being happy to be alive. There was always the let down that would hit around 4 o'clock on Christmas afternoon, when all the wrapping paper had been thrown away (and unfortunately sometimes a stray present or two), all the dinner had been eaten and the relatives would leave. It was at those times I would think to myself, "What does all this really mean if I feel this way when it's over?" I wasn't as intellectually prepared to deconstruct the holiday and its attendant emotions as I am now.

Last year I blamed my malaise on the fact that I had just ended a relationship and that a friend of mine died suddenly two weeks before Christmas. But this year, perhaps I'm finally tiring of the media fallacy that keeps being foisted on us, the lie that says our lives should look a certain way or they are not valuable, that our Christmas tree should look a certain way, our cleanly scrubbed, hetero-normative family should be all smiles as we engage in conspicuous consumption. But I don't think it's really a marketing issue. Perhaps I'm being self-indulgent and, instead of focusing on what I don't have, I should focus on helping others who will have even less than I will this Christmas. Each day when I go to Starbucks, I see a pile of toys for underprivileged kids getting larger and larger. I wonder if the people who dropped these presents off feel better about the holidays than I do?

I'm luckier than most. I have a loving family, I'm healthy, most days I'm pretty happy. All in all I have a lot of reasons to be thankful this year. Maybe I should share some of my good fortune with others.

Or maybe I'll just teach my little nephews some Christmas carols while I curl my hair.


Stephen Whitley is a writer from Dallas.