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The Up Side

Secret to finding the holiday spirit: stop looking By Michael Grady

O

ne Christmas, when I was five, I decided to see Santa up close. I threw aside the covers Christmas Eve, determined to go downstairs and catch the jolly-old-elf in the act. My older brother told me not to. I told him I had yet to catch the Christmas spirit this year, and this was my final chance. He told me he was hoping for a fivespeed bike. And if I messed that up, they would only find my body parts under the tree tomorrow. It made for an awkward standoff. Then, perhaps just to shut me up, my brother launched into this elaborate tale about catching Santa the previous year. It was a dark, Edgar Allen Poeish version containing several moments where I was to blame for things but my brother had a way with a story. I can’t remember if he ever got the bike, or anything I got, or said, that Christmas. I just remember the sight of my older brother, sitting cross-legged on the bed, whispering this fantastic yarn in the moonlight. You never know when this season will etch a little something on your soul. I’m a sucker for the holidays. If you’ve read this far, you probably are, too. It’s not cool to admit it these days. Most of us lament the appearance of holiday decorations in department stores (Tip to retailers: if you’re trying to jam plastic santas between back-toschool displays? You’re too early.) And we groan at the first holiday commercial sighting or the first carols on our local radio stations. (Soon, they’ll make a Christmas song the closing number for the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon.) Yes, we all get Facebook-snarky about “it’s too early,” and “I’m not ready” and merchandisers’ hair-trigger fingers on the “Fa-la-la-la-la.” But someone is watching Linus’ speech in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Someone’s turning up Bing Crosby on the radio. Personally, I could use a good holiday this year. After last month’s

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election, I’d like to pop open a freakin’ “Perry Como Christmas Special,” crawl in, and hide there ‘til spring. I imagine many of us are desperate for a fix of old-fashioned holiday spirit. But it took me years to understand the lesson I first learned that night I wanted to catch Santa Claus: the surest way to miss the magic is to go looking for it. Holiday spirit is like true love, inner peace or any one of those annoying things you can’t order on Amazon: going after it is a futile and often frustrating exercise. So, I can’t tell you exactly what to do to enjoy your holidays this year. But bitter experience has taught me what not to do: Don’t be passive-aggressive about holiday cheer. Visiting family, old friends and observing time-honored traditions? That’s great. But put a little effort into it. Too many people return to their old haunts, sit there like a cold lump of buzzkill, and wait for someone or something to light them up. I tried this one Christmas when I was broke, and between girlfriends. It generated a lot of holiday cheer. If, by holiday cheer, you mean: awkward pauses, threats of a restraining order, and questions such as “Mommy, why is he crying at the nativity scene?” It’s a balance. Bring some energy to the festivities, but don’t try too hard … Don’t be passive-aggressive about holiday cheer. Everyone has, in their circle, a Decorum Goon, who’ll twist you like a cow’s udder until you produce your allotted portion of glee. (“Be happy! It’s Christmas!”) While forced cheer does improve per capita liquor consumption, it doesn’t really work, and people see it coming a mile away. It’s like flop sweat on a comedian: it signals desperation, and it frightens children and pets. We’ve all run into “forced cheer” guy at an office party. He’s the one who hits the bar like it’s a

tackling dummy, discusses his divorce with the caterers, and winds up shouting at Santa during the gift exchange. If you’re blue, be unobtrusively blue. And whatever you do … Don’t spend too much time around Christmas songs. There’s a tendency, if you’re driving around a lot, to depend on Christmas music for inspiration. That’s when you realize how many depressing Christmas songs there are. (Have you heard “Christmas Shoes” or “Where are You, Christmas?” If either of these songs come on, just drive straight to a bar.) Instead … Take a life lesson from holiday specials. The old classics “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas “ have much to teach us. And that’s not just the eggnog talking. Every one in those stories was having an off-year, too: Charlie Brown lost artistic control of the Christmas pageant; Frosty the Snowman became a puddle and a damp hat; George Bailey lost $8,000, alienated his family and jumped off a bridge; the Whos in Whoville, the tall and the small, had every home ransacked, on the best night of all. What they had in common and what

non-fictional souls like us should keep in mind is that they all gamely rolled with the dark turn their holiday had taken. And when they stopped looking for some external force to cheer them, something remarkable happened. Think about your three best holiday memories. Chances are, each memory is tied to a moment with a loved one that sprang, unexpectedly, out of nothing much: the surprise visitor; the unexpected kindness; the beautiful lights/table/service/song that meant so much because of the people you shared it with. That stuff happens, I find, when you neither dread nor expect anything from the holidays. You buy the gifts, wear the awful sweaters and let the crazy choreography just happen. One Christmas, I decided to see Santa up close. When that didn’t happen, I gave up on trying to make the holiday go my way. The moment after I did so, my brother gave me a story, and a memory, that I still treasure five decades later. I hope whatever holiday you celebrate this month Hanukkah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa, it comes to you like a friend, easing your worries and lifting your spirits. If it doesn’t, I wish you the stillness to watch your life and all its poetry as it unfolds around you. And I hope somewhere in there, as the Rolling Stones promise, you get what you need.

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December 2016 : : Lovin’ Life After 50 : : page 7

Lovin' Life After 50: Phoenix - Dec. 2016  
Lovin' Life After 50: Phoenix - Dec. 2016