Ice storm. It always seemed unfair that my birthday came just nine days before Christmas. I would get combo presents from minor relatives happy to be done with me in one go. But Mom always put on the full birthday boy treatment for me, including one of my favorite goopy cakes. I liked pudding-y cakes with names like Raspberry Rhapsody or Tunnel of Fudge. In a public relations coup, Mom managed to make the proximity of my birthday to Christmas a good thing by making that the day we put up the tree and decorated it. I loved the tree and the decorating, so that was brilliant. I have a couple of cherished memories I now realize were moments of spontaneous meditation. One year the tree was so perfect it was transcendent. Everyone agreed: this particular tree was a step beyond. I spent hours every evening just basking in its glory. The other magic Christmas was around the same time, early 60s. We'd been hoping for a white Christmas; the forecast was borderline. We woke to brilliant sunshine. The world had turned to Austrian crystal: a freezing rain in the night. Every twig, every pine needle was separately coated with ice, shimmering in the sunlight. My sanctuary transformed into an ice palace.
She always was classier. My sister Gail was born on the fifteenth, so December was our special month. After I returned from Kenya and turned her and Sam onto pot, it became quite the thing. We put on a huge feast for each other, making endless toasts with cold duck, our celebratory beverage, replacing my usual Ripple or Boone's Farm, her usual Lancers or Mateus.
Mountain of presents. Holiday magic in my life came to an agonizing crescendo on the Fishfarm under the influence of Gail's anticipation mania. There were five kids, Sam & Gail, me, and sometimes Tim. First off, everyone gave everyone at least one wrapped present. Gail kept careful tabs on the running totals as the mound of presents grew under and around the tree, augmenting any perceived shortfalls. Gail and Sam gave each other multiple presents, and I gave Gail multiples. One year we actually counted: there were well over 200 presents under the the tree. Anticipation slowly grew from a dull ache to a jittery fever. Christmas eve was the scene of a carefully orchestrated taster: each person got to open one present selected by Gail. For the girls it would be a new nightie to wear that night and the following morning, and for the boys it was something similar, like a robe or boxers. The Christmas morning rules were well established and always minutely reviewed on Xmas eve. Kids could open their stockings, which always contained small wrapped presents, whenever they got up. In addition to the usual candy, stockings would have an outdoor toy to draw them out into the front yard. Presents under the tree were off limits until after breakfast. Once everyone was fed and the adults fortified with coffee and booze, places were established in the living room: armchairs for the adults, kids on the couch or lounging on Padrugpadrug. One kid, usually the youngest, was chosen as courier. The courier would select a present and take it to whomever was up next. That entire mountain of presents was opened agonizingly slowly, one at a time, while everyone else watched. The courier had some leeway, but Gail kept an eagle eye, guiding via comments like No let's wait on that one. Present opening dragged on into the afternoon, long after everyone had gone into a miserable sugar and/or alcohol crash. So much for the bloody pleasure of anticipation. But I didn't see the truth about holidays until thirty years later.
Synanon. Soon after my moment of destiny I began to lose interest in holidays. My disenchantment was genuine, coming from deep inside, but back in those days my thinking always had to chime in, still pretending to have the upper hand that moment had robbed it of forever. So, "philosophically," it was a bit of cheesy pop wisdom that got me going down this track: "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." Walter White explains:
But it's true. As I pondered that, I realized today really is the only day there is. Past and future days are imaginary; they don't exist. I can't do anything on an imaginary day. Holidays are the worst kind of imaginary day: their glamor sucks my attention away from this day. The one day I can do something. I used to focus all my attention on some upcoming holiday only to be disappointed when it came. Holidays never lived up to their hype. Holidays just made me feel lousy because I ate and drank too much. Holidays rob the present of my attention, gobbling up my one and only chance to get enlightened, to make progress with love. So I've given them up. I'm just not interested. My only holiday is today.