It Feels Like Christmas

When I think of Christmas, I think of the candlelight services at church on the 24th, with friends and family coming together to celebrate in the birth of Christ. The Christmas hymns, the haunting thrum of the organ and sailing voices of the choir. Over a hundred tiny candles glowing valiantly through the darkness as Silent Night pours from the congregation. Then, leaving the service and stepping out into the cold winter night, breath clouding through the air as departing friends share goodbyes and good tidings. A steam whistle in the distance, playing some cheery seasonal tune, announcing the arrival of Christmas as the clock chimes midnight.

I have long since ceased to believe in many things, and I don’t attend the Christmas Eve services anymore. I don’t want to go into detail about my loss of faith, but I bear no grudges or animosity toward those who believe, so long as they do not use their beliefs as a weapon, or as a way to push their agenda onto the unwilling.

Despite this, I still think of those nights, standing on the church steps as flurries dance in the sky, when I think of Christmas. They are memories I hold dear, and find comfort in, and I know the church doors are open for me should I have need of them, even though I no longer believe. The place is full of Christmas memories. Being the donkey in the Christmas pageant, then being promoted to narrator. Serving as an acolyte for several years, fearing I would accidentally light a wreath on fire. The beautiful Christmas hymns, my favorites being “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” I still, and will always, contend that religious Christmas songs are far, far superior to secular ones, though I admit that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” is a jam.

Now, I attend a different sort of service on Christmas Eve each year. One that takes place long ago in a galaxy far, far away. New traditions have grabbed hold. Frozen pizza for dinner, a latte or two, and Star Wars to round out the night. And though it’s only been in place for a couple of years, that tradition is starting to feel a bit like Christmas, too. Because really, those nights at church and the nights in the movie theater are not so different. One just has more popcorn.

Family, friends, and a feeling of calm, and of belonging. That’s what Christmas is, for me. In the face of all the things I dislike about the holidays – and there are several – there are some ideas and values that are close to my heart this time of year. Even though traditions might change, memories of old remain.

Happy holidays!

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If you’re in need of a new read, or need something to spend your holiday money on, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

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Worth 1000 Words #11: In the Bleak Midwinter

*I will only be making Friday posts for the month of December. Regular Monday and Friday posting will resume in January.*

Now that December has blustered into my neck of the woods, bringing cold winds, the scent of pine, and absolutely ridiculous inflatable holiday decorations adorning the yards of my neighbors, I have a confession to make: I don’t particularly enjoy the holidays. In fact, I recently purchased a shirt that truly reflects my feelings toward the holidays, which is reminiscent of everyone’s favorite reformed Christmas naysayer, Ebenezer Scrooge. It suits me wonderfully, I have to say.

img_20171120_143441_3441212692033.jpgI know, I know… disliking this time of the year is blasphemy. Everyone loves Christmas! Everyone loves cookies and bulky sweaters and watching snow fall with a steaming cup of cocoa! Everyone loves Christmas movies and carols and figgy pudding and whatever! But hear me out, because I think my aversion to the holiday season is valid.

Firstly, I don’t like gingerbread or eggnog, and peppermint is a case-by-case basis, with the typical outcome being “no thanks.” So, like, half of the seasonal lattes at Starbucks aren’t options for me, and that’s a major bummer. I also dislike snow (when I have to drive in it) and bitter cold, and though I do love a good bulky sweater, they tend to be quite itchy, and no one wants to be itchy all day, fashion be damned.

But, the main reason why I dislike the holiday season is that I work retail full-time. So, you can imagine how that is during the holidays. Last year I worked third shift for all of December and part of January, and it was a magical experience. I didn’t have to interact with people for 6 weeks. I didn’t have to care about my appearance for 6 weeks, I didn’t have to fake holiday cheer for 6 weeks. I could just do my work, listen to my own music, and carry on my own way without being bothered by last-minute shoppers who somehow think it’s my fault that we sold out of a particular item, even though we’ve had it in stock for weeks prior. I’m eternally grateful that I don’t work in the toy department, though. I work across the store, but I’m already sick of hearing about “fingerlings,” whatever those are, and last years “hatchimal” craze was even worse.

This year, I didn’t fare so well with my schedule, as I am on the early/day shift until the week leading up to Christmas – though I will say, in my 9 years of retail, I had my easiest Black Friday shift of all time a couple of weeks ago, so the holiday season didn’t kick off in a majorly disastrous fashion. I enjoy my job most of the time, but this time of year, it is far too easy to spiral into a jumbled mess of stress, irritation, the whole “too much work and not enough time” mentality, impatience, and indulging in too much candy to try and improve my mood, then feeling terrible and spending extra time at the gym to make up for it. It’s difficult to scrounge up enough scraps of “holiday cheer” to convince people that I’m jolly and not grappling with negativity and anxiety at a near constant basis. Hearing people complain about having to buy gifts for people, and seeing dejected relatives buy something that someone “probably won’t like anyway” is flat-out depressing. Enduring the same Christmas songs day in and day out is exhausting – we definitely don’t need to play 6 versions of “Blue Christmas,” but we do, and I hereby elect “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses to be the worst holiday song of all time, with the exception of “I want an Alien for Christmas,” by Fountains of Wayne, which is outright wrong. All of these factors combine to make “Bah Humbug” my personal slogan from late November into January, and it takes me until the tail end of March to actually shake off the lingering doldrums. The actual day of Christmas is so blink-and-you-miss-it in the retail world, because even though we don’t have to work on the actual day, on the 26th, the dreaded returns begin. And nothing is more soul-killing and makes me lose faith in humanity more than listening to people complain about the gifts they’ve gotten, then scoff at the amount of credit they receive for returning the gifts they didn’t want.

But every year, there are little things that make up for the dour feeling of holiday blues. Last weekend, I attended a holiday party hosted by a coworker with some of my favorite folks from work and had an absolute blast, laughing and joking and playing games and eating delicious food. I love buying gifts for friends and family, and seeing their faces light up when they open them. I love Christmas cookies (of the non-gingerbread variety) and decorating the tree. I love going to the movies in the winter, because it’s “Oscar contender” time and the quality of films gracing the screens is top notch. However, if The Disaster Artist and The Shape of Water don’t make their way to my town, I will be devastated. I can’t wait to see The Last Jedi on Christmas Eve, as has become tradition in my family. My mom and I went to see The Man Who Invented Christmas after a particularly stressful day of work last week, and it really did help me get a bit more into the Christmas spirit.

This year, to survive the holidays, I’ve chosen to focus on all the things that make this time of year happy, and not the ones that diminish what the Christmas season is supposed to be about. I’ll cherish time with my family, enjoy the seasonal lattes that aren’t tainted by the foul taste of gingerbread, and not let the cold or the flurries get me down. My “bah, humbugs” might not officially turn into far more chipper, “Ho, ho ho’s,” but I will make an effort to enjoy the little things, and slough off stress whenever I can, so I will not be vanquished by the bleak midwinter.

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If you’re in need of a new read, or want to get someone a book for the holidays, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

All It Takes

Winter used to be my favorite season.

When I was younger, I loved snow, hot chocolate, Christmas specials on TV, getting all bundled up to go out and play, having days off of school… everything about winter, I enjoyed. But winter, I’ve discovered, is more of a child’s season. Because when you become an adult, winter means shoveling, driving in occasionally hazardous conditions, higher bills, stressful seasons at work (depending on what you do), perpetually dry skin, among a myriad of other concerns.

Now that I am no longer a carefree child, I’ve come to hate winter. Part of this hatred can be attributed to the ridiculous snows I experienced while attending college in New England, but regardless, winter has dropped from my favorite season to my absolute least favorite over the span of a few years. So, this time of year, especially in January and February, it doesn’t take much for my mood to take a total nosedive. Winter just really gets me down, man. It sucks.

But sometimes, a flicker of something bright chases the winter gloom away.

There are days when I wake up at 5AM, my room is an icebox (thank you, inconveniently positioned heating vents) and all I want to do is snuggle back beneath my blankets, forget all of my responsibilities, and lay in bed all day reading, sipping coffee, writing, and keeping warm. Alas, life doesn’t quite work that way, so typically, I drag myself out of bed, tug on some fuzzy socks to keep my toes from freezing, and get ready to be a functional adult. Well… semi-functional, really.

This past weekend, I had early shifts at work, so, on Saturday, I hauled myself out of bed, got ready, and departed for work at approximately 5:25AM. En route to work, I munched on a corn muffin (A.K.A, my kryptonite) and decided to turn on the radio to see what early-morning tunes were playing, hoping that something might chase the before-dawn winter glumness away. And it just so happened that, amidst the repetitive drone of Top 40 hits, one bright glimmer of marvelous 90’s nostalgia began to radiate from my speakers…

Hey, now, you’re an All Star, get your game on, go play,
Hey, now, you’re a rock star, get the show on, get paid,
And all that glitters is gold,
Only shooting stars break the mold…

Some may remember Smash Mouth’s 1999 hit “All Star” from the animated film Shrek. Or, in certain circles, from that time they used it in one of the Digimon movies. I know it from both, because I grew up in that era, but that’s not the point… the pint is that it’s not a song that one typically hears on the radio these days, even though it’s excellent.

But for some reason, at 5:30AM on a blustery Saturday in February, one of the local radio stations decided that early morning commuters like myself needed to be told that there’s so much to do, so much to see, and there’s nothing wrong with taking the back streets.

On a cold winter morning, “All Star” is exactly the song that I needed to hear. With the lyrics still ringing in my head, I waltzed into work and proceeded to get my game on, forgetting all about the bitter cold and general unpleasantness of winter. And the next morning, as I was driving to work yet again, I turned on the radio and THEY PLAYED IT AGAIN. I got to jam out to Smash Mouth twice in one weekend! Lightning sometimes DOES strike twice!

Sometimes, all it takes to lift your mood is a little reminder that you can BE an All Star, even if you often don’t feel like it. Because, after all, the years start coming and they don’t stop coming, and life’s too short to dwell on the negative. Look for the bright spots in the darkness, and use that light to pull you up when the shadows try and drag you down…. and remember, you’ll never know if you don’t go, and you’ll never shine if you don’t glow.