It probably doesn’t go this way for everyone, but for enough people that it’s good someone wrote a song about it.
Those early Christmases when you’re a kid and there are so many people around, the cousins and aunts and uncles, a meal that seems to magically appear because who goes near the kitchen when your Uncle Ed is teaching you to play cribbage and your cousin Leslie is explaining why she rubs vaseline on her troll dolls? The thrown-together-at-the-last-minute Christmases when you’re in your twenties, you had other plans but your Mom calls and says you need to be there, it’s important to your father, and so you show up and plaster a smile on your face and indulge in sad thoughts about death and divorce and how you’d be having so much better a time with your girlfriend’s family. Then the Christmases when you’re north of 35 and hardly anyone is left, your Mom and a spouse if you’re lucky, and usually you’re someplace way too warm for December and sometime early afternoon you put on the news channel so there’s something to talk about and later you eat a Honey Baked Ham and exercise as much self-control as you can muster not to think sad thoughts because that’s a bottomless pit right there.
And you know what? You’re grateful every time, or should be. At least there’s someone around who remembers when everyone was around. And trees, lights, presents: even diminished they are something. We all need a pause to remember that every moment contains every other moment, to reflect on where we find ourselves.
I remember such moments of stillness from past Christmases: driving home dead-tired from a party, at 2 AM exchanging presents with my wife because we decided gifts on Christmas Eve would be our way of asserting ourselves over the family obligations that took up the rest of the holiday (we changed our mind because it was kind of stupid), turning off the Christmas lights last thing at night in an otherwise dark house. One year I made up a story about meeting Santa that reduced my son to astonished silence, and another year he whispered “He came!” under his breath upon seeing the gifts under the tree Christmas morning.
I loved Hayes’s album “Trouble in Mind” (check out “Beaumont”) and liked “KMAG YOYO,” which is where this song appears. His latest overly-morose effort, “Lovers and Leavers,” didn’t do much for me but I am already on record about my feelings about self-proclaimed divorce albums. I heard Hayes had a verbal feud going on with Steve Earle because he’d been dating Steve’s ex-wife. Long-held resentments and complicated family dynamics is another thing that Christmas provides an opportunity to be reflective about.
Happy holidays to everyone anyway! And try not to forget to be grateful.