It doesn’t feel like the holidays.
Maybe that’s because I’ve been so busy I’ve missed traditions like watching “Santa and the Three Bears,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “The Grinch That Stole Christmas.” I haven’t read one poem from “It’s Christmas” by Jack Prelutsky, and I haven’t listened to a single song from my Reader’s Digest “Christmas Through the Years” record collection. That’s right, I still own the family’s original 5-album Christmas music box set from ’84.
I have all kinds of traditions that transport me back to those magical Christmases of my childhood, but nearly halfway into December, I hadn’t done one. Christmas isn’t what it used to be.
There’s work, there’s family, there’s life and, of course, there’s three hours at the dentist for a “quick” X-ray. I have nothing to show for the time I saved by typing “u” in my texts instead of “you.”
Christmas, these days, is like zombies: slow and far away. But trip and fall for one second, and Christmas Day/the zombies are right in your face/eating your face. All holidays are like that lately.
When my son was born 13 years ago, I started getting ready for Halloween in mid-September. Each year after, I got ready a little earlier because it kept coming faster and faster. Before long, I was missing Halloween altogether. So this year, I put up Halloween stuff on Aug. 1.
In order to be ready for Christmas, I have to start searching for the spirit as the last trick-or-treater is knocking on my door. By my schedule, I should be in full Christmas mode by February.
I knew I was running later than usual this year when I saw the Dec. 24 expiration date on the milk I bought the other day. Christmas is here, I thought. I better not let it get away from me this time.
It was my wife’s idea to see “A Christmas Carol” at the Glendale Centre Theatre, which was an annual tradition my parents started with my family in 1979 when I was 3 years old. That ritual ended when we moved from Southern California to the Bay Area eight years later.
I knew going to the play this year wouldn’t bring back that Christmas feeling I had as a kid. If anything, it’d only make my longing for it more painful. So why do it? Then again, why not do it?
The play was everything I wanted it to be. By the time the Ghost of Christmas Past walked on stage to haunt Ebenezer Scrooge, I was in full awe.
“I bet I sat in this very seat one time as a kid,” I told my wife and son. “We need to get hot apple cider at the intermission. We used to always get hot apple cider at the intermission.”
True to form, the play was rushing by. Maybe I was too busy thinking about my childhood to savor every moment. It’s just that I remember those younger years being so magical, aside from school, homework, projects with my step-dad on weekends in the garage and in the yard, chores and, of course, three hours at the dentist for one of those “quick” X-rays. Those days seemed to go on forever!
When the Ghost of Christmas Present paid his visit to Scrooge, I was able to lock into the play and enjoy. I was in the moment. I took out my phone and shot video so I could have that moment forever.
Who was I fooling? I’d never see the videos again. That’s because the files on my back-up hard drive are so unsearchable when they’re called things like “IMG_102765.” Who has time to rename and organize 600 files that you’re transferring over “real quick?”
The Ghost of Christmas-Yet-to-Come was a reminder that all things must end. The play was over shortly after, and I rushed to the box office to buy tickets for next year. It didn’t matter that they weren’t on sale yet. No matter how much I wanted to recreate my past, the present and future would never do it justice.
Traditions are not time machines. I can’t go back to the first time I encountered Santa Claus, or to Christmas of 1987 when I got the Steve Caballero skateboard I wanted more than anything. That year, my parents waited an hour after opening all the presents to tell me I needed to clean up the mess from Christmas morning. They sent me for the vacuum in the hall closet. That’s when I found the board, which stood in the vacuum’s place. It was the best gift I ever received. Oh, what a surprise!
I’ll never be able to duplicate the emotion and feeling I had that Christmas. But I certainly won’t encounter any surprises worthy of becoming a tradition by rushing through the holidays, going after something that’s unattainable. That’s why this year I’m going to take my time and enjoy the present.
That’s what I was thinking, anyway, before my mom called and told me to expect a tin of her famous Christmas Day fudge in the mail in time for Christmas morning. Forget the present. I’ve got my eyes on that Christmas fudge yet to come.
This story originally appeared in The Acorn Newspapers of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, CA, this month. You can find other stories like it in Michael Picarella’s book, “Everything Ever After (Confessions of a Family Man),” and at MichaelPicarellaColumn.com.