This year I set out to enjoy Christmas. I haven’t enjoyed the holiday in a long time, probably since my children got older and Santa Claus no longer slid down our double chimney. My girls would ask “how does he know which chimney to come down?”
Each passing year brought increasing bills and less time. I swore I would save money for gifts but then I needed snow tires or the oil burner blew up, so out came the credit cards.
The last four years in New Hampshire were rough. I was commuting forty-five minutes from home fifty weeks a year after fourteen months on unemployment trying to cover Cobra payments for health insurance. It was a boring, dead end job but I was sitting for health care. Depending on the day of the week Christmas fell on, I could be working on Christmas Eve, often driving for over an hour in the snow.
But when I got home we always made the traditional lobster and raw oysters. Lobster is cheap in New Hampshire, one year I got if for $3.99 a pound, and my husband dug the oysters from Great Bay. One year he went out there in five degree weather because it was tradition and we had to have those oysters.
I still wrapped the presents in Santa paper. On Christmas Day, the wood stoves burned and the lights on the tree stayed on all day. We rarely left the house. Eggnog French toast for breakfast and standing rib roast for dinner. Traditions are important and food is always a part of that. But I stopped putting candles in the windows and cut back on lots of decorating. I just didn’t have time and dreaded putting it all away. I was right back to work after the holiday. I had those credit card bills to pay.
Last year my husband and I were alone for the very first time. It was strange but not awful. I found a local fish market that carried Maine lobster for a lot more than $3.99 a pound and Publix had a sale on standing rib roast. We didn’t decorate but I wrapped the girls’ presents in Santa paper and mailed them in time to reach Colorado before Christmas Day.
So this year I decided to be a little more festive. I bought two poinsettas for my deck and we’ve strung lights along the railing. I’m listening to and sharing Christmas carols on Facebook. I’m very into photography since I discovered Instagram and I’m posting #25photosofchristmas over there.
Tonight’s the Christmas Boat Parade along the Intracoastal and we’ve invited another couple to join us. I’m making shish kebobs for the grill, steak and shrimp, and the Rangpur Lime Cocktail from the Bonnet House.
This morning I realized I forgot the prosciutto for the shrimp kebobs so I walked across the street to the Winn-Dixie and was greeted with large yellow and red signs announcing Store Closing. I knew this branch wasn’t doing well, it was never crowded. There’s a lot of competition around here and a lot of the more well-off people along the coast prefer the new Whole Foods or Fresh Market. I was happy to see Trader Joe’s open a Delray Beach branch.
Even today with the 20% off perishables there were only a few customers.
The employees were glum, chattering amongst themselves, and who could blame them. They’d lost their jobs two weeks before Christmas. They had lots of questions.
“Do you know if we get our vacation time?”
“I don’t think so, if you’re part time.”
“Make sure you get your packet before you leave today.”
“Did you get a transfer?”
“No, did you?”
Stores are always busy at Christmas time. Why couldn’t they stay open until the end of the month? As Sam in my upcoming novel says after he loses his job just before Christmas, “It must have been some year end, bottom line, numbers not people sort of thing. Best not to think about the casualties of executive decisions.”
Mitt Romney was wrong, corporations are not people.
A lot of talking heads are wrong. They will tell you discussions about income inequality are just divisive politics. But they are the divisive ones. They pit middle class people just barely hanging on against those who have fallen off the edge. Here in South Florida, I can drive two miles from the palatial mansions along the ocean, cross the railroad tracks running along the Dixie highway, and find myself in the other America where many of the people who work at the Closing Today Winn Dixie live. You have to be an ostrich with your head in the sand not to believe there are two Americas.
I’ve been really putting it out there this week. Promoting my book, working social media, writing blogs. I’m trying to bust down my own doors and make it through the hallowed halls of publishing in a dog eat dog business where the game is rigged. So I wasn’t going to blog today. I have a dinner party and a Christmas boat parade to get ready for.
But once again, I was reminded there is always someone suffering here in the land of plenty.
Despite my efforts at enjoying Christmas this year, I know I will still get cranky at the corporate driven spending madness of the holiday, the traffic at the mall, and the lines at the grocery store.
I will be slightly nostalgic for Christmas past, when my kids were young and would wake us before sunrise to run downstairs and see if Santa had already visited our house. I miss my girls, who are in Denver and Boston. But in this year of posting gratitudes, it is also important to remind myself of others who don’t have the right connections or the right education or just plain bad luck.
There are no blame games here. Most people I meet are down on their luck due to circumstances beyond their control. The people you hear about on talk radio are a small minority. Income inequality is very real and getting worse. Take a drive outside your neighborhood one night to a place you rarely visit where people with far less are still stringing Christmas lights along the roofs and fences and shrubs of their front yard and trying to recognize gratitude in much more difficult circumstances. We’re a better nation than the one we’ve become. Let’s hope the New Year brings peace and prosperity to all but I am no longer counting on it.