“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days, recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, and transport the traveler back to his own fireside and quiet home!”
— Charles Dickens
So this is Christmas. And Christmas is great. Even when it isn’t. Which is most of the time.
You know what I mean?
I knew you probably would.
Look, I don’t care if you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza or Boxing Day or Kickboxing Day, I just don’t give a tinsel titty. You do you and I will be over here backing you up/ throwing down with anyone who has a problem with your shit, because life is too short for all that nonsense. I celebrate Christmas, but I celebrate it in my own way. I hijack the narrative and I twist it until it turns into something better for me. More digestible for me. Cleaner. Sharper.
Like pure driven snow.
On a Lynyrd Skynyrd mirror.
In a carnie’s beat up RV.
You know, I am about to dump a lot of Christmas cheer into your beautiful lap. Some sad low blue, some jolly red, some ever green, some tinged with dread. I hope you find at least some of it charming, or perhaps a bit intriguing. Maybe even a tad offensive? is that so wrong when are discussing something as poignantly individual as the solitary human being standing in the howling wilderness that is the collective holidays? I mean, hey, this is the 21st century, and we are on the internet, and if I am not crushing someone’s will to live at any given moment then what good am I at this bloggy thing after all, you know?
Okay, okay. Let’s start the show, alright? Hand me that lit candle, will you? And move in close to me over here. Don’t be afraid. I don’t bite. Well, I do, but just one person and it ain’t you.
Hold tight to me.
Grab my arm.
We are up, now.
WE ARE UP NOW!!
Look down at the snowy fields!
Let’s go down into the village.! Let’s go sneak into the cottages in the middle of the night, shall we?? Let’s steal some Christmas trees and snag some presents! Just for devilish kicks! And then let’s return it all just in the nick of time/ as dawn breaks!! / as the kids/ who all deserve the stars/ they each rub the sand from their eyes and the booger crust from their runny noses/ yawn/ sit up in bed/ and look out at the cool blue Earthy yolk bleeding through this shell of night!
The world, it will be coming alive!
On Christmas Day in the morning!!
In Search of Christmas Spirit
So much happens to a brain and a heart during Christmastime that it often seems to me that the true meaning of the season has been lost to the idiot tides forever. I know that’s far from an original thought, so I suspect that many of you feel the same way from time to time. Gifts, money, shopping, crowds, little time and lots of responsibilities, fatty foods, dip shit songs, kids throwing up chunks of pasta because they got the latest Christmas virus, year-end exhaustion, family drama, Facebook assholes making everything look festive and great, too much booze, all of it/ everything/ it’s all too much sometimes.
The so-called “Christmas Spirit” is supposed to lift us, make us happy, feel alive. But like so much in life: other people ruin it by creating, over time, new definitions for what it means to be a peppy participant in the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. But you know what? Fuck them. And fuck all that.
It’s a lot. We are hurting. Suffering. Sad and then smiling. In line at the Target, watching lovers kiss. In line at the Walmart, watching old people staring at the mints. In line at the Post Office. In line at the liquor store. In line at the top of the steps on Christmas morning/ waiting for your mom to say “Okay! Come down!”
Then one day you’re in line to thank the people for coming to her funeral.
In line to say goodbye to your friend.
In line to cash your Social Security check.
In line to see Santa.
In line to get your chemo.
I just want to eat some fruitcake and drink some red wine and hold you close on the couch during Elf because we are everything right now and we are on our way out the door.
“Next to a circus there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out any quicker than the Christmas spirit.”
— Kin Hubbard
“I got up one Christmas morning and we didn’t have nothing to eat. We didn’t have an apple, we didn’t have an orange, we didn’t have a cake, we didn’t have nothing.”
— Muddy Waters
Jesus and God and Heaven and Space and Darkness and Goodbye Forever
I used to believe in God but now I don’t. It isn’t sad. And it isn’t stupid. The sky makes more sense to me now that I can look at it and not expect to live up there someday forever. I like knowing that my time on Earth/ right here/ right now/ is all I have and all I will ever have. I will not cross paths with my kids in Heaven. We will see each other no more, no more.
Unless, of course, we do. In which case: great. What a treat!
I love loving a few people harder than I ever loved before because we are loving each other in just a flash of swift frames before we go dark and drift back up into the wild seas of space. As micro dust. As nothingness. The same wonderful void that birthed the dream will swallow it back down again. Then we will nourish the essence of a memory for a hundred years or so. As long as we are recalled. Then the sad beautiful poetry of being totally forgotten will commence. And we will slip further under the conscious plane, until one afternoon, as the world does its thing/ as kids holler off the school bus at springtime blooming up from the soil/ the last person/ maybe one of your grandkids/ maybe one of your great grandkids/ but the last living veteran of your time alive/ the last human being to have any recollection of you being here in the flesh/ they will puff a little air/ twitch their eyes/ and die themselves.
And just like that: so too will die your last moments of memory. You will be forgotten at that point. Exist only in what you left behind. Your written words. Your photos. Your TikTok videos and your Twitter posts about nothing anyone gives a crap about anymore. Maybe your Amazon hologram or whatever. Some remnants of your voice, some scattered ashes of your skin dancing down the information superhighway into the faces of the tens of trillions who never ever knew you and never ever will.
Still, I figure I like Christmas just as much as anyone else because, even though I don’t really buy into much of what they say about its origins, I still recognize the powerful awesomeness of believing in something good. In something looking out for you and the people you love. And I think this holiday, it represents/ at its blurry buried core/ the best of us somehow. Mind you, it’s all been twisted. Mangled, really, this notion of man’s humanity towards his fellow man. And I am in no mood to guess how or why that has happened, but in there somewhere there are some very rare burning embers that connect us all. It doesn’t matter what you identify as. Christian or not, I feel like it really doesn’t make a difference anymore.
I mean, listen.
The harsh December wind. The frozen still stars. The bare branches of the night trees lit up by a pale old moon. The kids laughing in the other room. The wine mixing down in your own warm blood. The tree all lit up. The dog on the rug. The mad rush over. The money all spent. The money never came. The loneliness of the winter. Your connection with the galaxy coming down like snow/ like light evening snow in the streetlight as the church people reach their cars, fire up their motors, head home with a swish of headlights, aiming for their own version of peace in the valley.
I taste nothing but the blood on my bottom lip. You see, I bit it as I was figuring all of this out for myself.
You have your thing and I have mine. I only want us both to be okay. I only want us both to be warm in the morning, a mug of coffee cupped in our two hands like a commercial on TV. Breathing in the steam. Standing in the rising mist.
I have to piss.
You have to piss.
We are alive on Christmas morning.
“How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!”
— Benjamin Franklin
“To believe is to know you believe, and to know you believe is not to believe.”
— Jean-Paul Sartre
Outlaws at the Christmas Tree
Cutting down a living thing and dragging it back to your abode so you can set it up in the living room and pretend it’s still kind of alive is so sensationally messed up that I almost can’t write about it.
But I have to try.
Of all the traditions, the Christmas tree thing is the most loco if you ask me. And yet, I live for it. I think about the idea of it all and I try, sometimes, to imagine that instead of the tree/ I am dragging back some young gunfighter outlaw to my home on the prairie. He was a bad mama jama and he killed a lot of innocents (plus a heap of fellow bad seeds) and when they offered up a reward for his body, dead or alive, well, I knew that this would be how I would earn my Christmas gift money this year.
I followed his cold trail for months. Across the Nebraska territory and down into the Texas territory, I lived on gopher beans and tumbleweed/ held my mouth up to catch the rarified dew as I sat covered in guns on the back of my horse/ and I followed the shank of the autumn moon to understand where my target was hiding.
I asked baby armadillos to whisper his direction up at me.
I told the witches that live in the desolate barns to send him to me if they could be so kind.
I made love to sad rattlesnakes in a delicate rain.
And then one day I shot him through the heart on a vacant homestead porch. He collapsed like a sack of Wyoming wampum and I tied him to my horse and traveled the many miles and many roads back to my home. Then, before I collected my reward, I set him up in the living room. I peeled his rat skin boots off his stiff pale feet and I propped his whole long body in a bucket of water. I threw a penny in the drink to stave off rot and I hung candles from his greasy jacket buttons and tiny wooden angels from the brim of his old weathered hat.
The family adored him from the get-go.
The children drank their cocoa in the flickering of his illumination and we all stared at him with real love in our eyes. Martha spoke to him when the rest of us were asleep. Martha told him her secrets, like she knew him from before.
We only rolled him out into the endless gusts beyond our walls when his skin began to speckle and his must turned wilder than we could endure.
I cashed him in the day after New Years.
His eyes were sinking back in his head and his teeth were poking out of his rolling back lips as if he was smiling something wicked at everyone who came up to see him that day we both rolled into town.
I will never forget him.
Next year I will kill his brother. Or maybe his son. It won’t matter all too much as long as the killing done gets done.
To read the rest of this essay and more from Serge Bielanko, subscribe to his Substack feed HERE.
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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattlling around his noggin. Once in a blue Muskie Moon, he backs away from the computer, straps on a guitar and plays some rock ’n’ roll with his brother Dave and their bandmates in Marah.