This fall, for the first time that I can recall, I started to see Christmas lights being strung up at the same time as Halloween lights. Even before. In fact, this remarkable year, I saw Christmas lights twinkling at my gas station on October 18th, which just so happened to be an unusually warm and sunny 75 degree Indian summer day. And it stressed me out, big time. I felt like I had just emerged shell-shocked from the post-Labor Day and back-to-school rush. The intense and stressful weeks of the post-summer panic. And since when were Halloween decorations such a big deal? I saw photos of a 8-foot tall mechanical skeleton being erected on a colleague’s lawn. Yards littered with gigantic gourds of all shapes, weights and colors. Orange and yellow and green and white. Young and old pumpkins. Pimpled and smooth and skinny and bulbous. Every shape, size and denomination of Halloween-ish root vegetable seemed to be represented.
Everyone, it seems, is now getting in on the Halloween decorating action. Gorgeous, previously manicured lawns now dug up in an alarming display of half-buried graves and decomposing limbs. Quite realistic-looking peeling and rotting zombies, miraculously now rigged to rise, screaming in your direction with malevolent howls if you dare walk too close by.
Call me old-fashioned, as I am, but what happened to just sort of half-assedly carving a medium sized pumpkin the weekend before Halloween, roasting the seeds, and then leaving it outside as a nice treat for the neighborhood raccoons? That’s what my memories of Halloween decorating consist of. It's all too much. All this celebrating. All this decorating. The laying of cheap, sparkly, tinsel over the trees, and shops and street signs for every Tom, Dick and Harry holiday that saunters along is giving me a 365 day-a-year panic attack.
And for what? Halloween lasts a few chilly hours at best, resulting in some fun, surefire weight gain and of course, the inevitable cavities. And then? Then, of course, it’s time to rip all that festive decor down the day after Halloween, pack it away in the garage or the attic and start again…for Thanksgiving. The weird frilly pilgrim collars and belts and the festive autumnal bunting. The turkeys, and the tofurkeys (a greyish-white wet and viscous turkey shaped out of tofu). The pies and the cakes and the stuffing and the family feuds. The exhaustion and desire to flee to a warmer clime before the whole thing even happens. The wish to disappear and come back after New Year’s Day. Or maybe never come back at all…
But even then I won't be free. Then it will be time to decorate and plan for Groundhog Day and then Valentines Day, and then don’t forget “Singles Awareness Day” on February 15th (the day after Valentines Day). Do I, a happily married breeder, need to decorate for that? To show my solidarity? I’m sure I do. And then come Presidents Day and then more minor and major holidays before the international biggie, the Big Kahuna rising from the dead, the celebration of Easter. More bunting, more decorating, more candy and weight gain and familial discord and trips to the dentist and orthodontist for cavity filling and to repair the children's braces torn asunder by caramel and toffee and jellybeans.
And yes, I do know that I sound quite Grinch-y, because I am. Sometimes. Over all this hysteria and planning and decorating for every real and now completely made-up holiday that I celebrate or choose to ignore.
These days I am trying to stay on a much different path than my earlier self-destructive one. A new path where I attend A.A. meetings, read spiritual literature, meditate, pray, do yoga and try to commune with nature. And this new path asks me to do at least a few of these excercises every single day. And in all of these contemplative practices or endeavors I am presented with the exact same advice. To try, as best I can, to stay present, to be mindful, to remain in the day. To feel where my feet are. To be consciously aware of my life sustaining breath. In and out, in and out. But how is this possible? I have to plan, to organize, to decorate and celebrate and get into the spirit of Secretary’s Day and National Cat and Dog Day and even Festivus. I want to throw up my hands and scream.
What is it with humans? Or maybe just me? Why can’t I just freaking chill? Just enjoy a Wednesday afternoon say? Without always, chronically, having to plan and organize for things not actually in the present moment but always tantilizingly out of reach in the near or far future. How about waking up? How about celebrating the fact that I have eyes and ears and a nose? And working limbs! FOUR of them mind you. I do love my functioning limbs. How about I celebrate that? As opposed to celebrating World UFO Appreciation Day (July 2nd in case anyone cares).
Last year I got Covid and lost my sense of smell and taste completely for over two weeks. It was very depressing. I didn’t even mind being sick; in fact, I prayed to be sicker if I could only have those two senses back. Nothing could get through. Not perfume or coffee or ammonia or vinegar or bleach. I tried them all. Running around the house like a cracked-out chipmunk demanding that anyone I came into contact with post-quarantine smell what I was holding at the time. Can you smell this? I demanded of them all. Aggressively shoving cups and bottles and atomizers full of splashing toxins, perfumes and unguents under their noses whether they were game or not. “Does this smell like anything to you?” I would demand of my victims, shoving it closer in. Singeing their fragile nose hairs with turpentine or nail polish remover.
And of course it did. It smelled like whatever it was I was holding in my hand at the time. To the hostages at least. Only I could smell and taste nothing. Nothing at all. And it felt very lonely. Like I had lost a good chunk of what makes me human. Two out of the five senses were simply, terrifyingly gone.
So when my sense of smell and taste did come back, I celebrated. Because it was glorious to have those senses back. And I am present now with those senses. Having lost and then found them again, I am extremely grateful for them. Shouldn't that be enough? Might I suggest a Functioning Human Senses Celebration Day?
I was beginning to wonder if it’s just Americans that have this mania. These weeks and months and years that we seemingly simply cannot get through without having something to “look forward” to. And I see that it’s not just us. It’s mankind. The holidays are different in Uzbekistan and the Faroe islands (Eid al-Fitr or Saint Olav's anyone?) but they are there. Across the world, in every single country. It appears that we humans like to celebrate. And that's a good thing. It shows some sort of optimism on our parts. Some desire to get together and throw up some twinkly garish something or other and share a toast or a meal. But I can and certainly do get overwhelmed by it all.
Currently it’s Christmas week and some people I know are hunkering down hard, gritting their teeth and praying to “get through” the holidays. As for me, I will try as best I can to not get swept up in the mass hysteria, take it easy, and try to stay in and appreciate this day, this hour, this present moment.
I do enjoy Easter and Thanksgiving and I actually love Christmas. I appreciate the colors and the smells and the sights and sounds. I like decorating our tree and scattering vibrant red poinsettias hither and yon about the house and office. I enjoy giving gifts and watching those reactions. It’s a treat for the senses, if I don’t let the self-imposed pressure to “enjoy it, goddammit!” derail me.
Because NOW is where the magic is for me. If I am able to access it. If I am able to feel myself in it. Not in made up holidays or over produced, sleekly marketed decorations or silly tinfoil hats. The magic is to be found here, now, in the present moment. Because when it comes right down to it, this moment in time, this absolute NOW is all that I have, all that I will ever have, and all that really matters.