Having written musicals and television specials celebrating Christmas you probably assume that I welcome the season with mistletoe and holly flavored “Ho Ho Ho’s!”
After all, I’m the guy that wrote the songs for “Emmet Otter’s Jug band Christmas” and “The Muppet Christmas Carol. “A Muppet Christmas, Letters to Santa” was my idea. I co-wrote the story, teleplay and wrote the songs. In the early eighties I played Santa’s chief elf Ed in “The Night They Saved Christmas.” Not my first elf role by the way. Pointy ears and shoes with curled up toes look good on me. Christmas has to be my favorite time of the year, right?
A brief disclaimer. I love what Christmas stands for. I truly believe it is “a season for the heart. A special time of caring. The ways of love made clear.” And by the time Christmas Day is upon us you’ll find I’ve finally settled into a quiet place of comfort and joy. Once the hoopla of preparing for the feast is behind us I’m suddenly ready for a little low volume “fa la la la la – la la la la-ing.
But the run up to the celebration that begins earlier and earlier every year tosses me into something of a blue funk. Some call it the Christmas blues. Not an appropriate term for what I experience. Because I’m not really down. I suffer from a low-grade anxiety and the feeling that what I do, give, offer, will somehow not quite cut the mustard. Uh, plum pudding. I worry that I’m not doing enough. Or that I’m doing too much. You’re probably wondering what the hell happened to Gratitude and Trust?
I get there. But, it’s a task and an emotional journey I take almost every year.
Santa has his bag of toys. I’ve got my baggage. Many of us do. Somewhere back in my childhood I believe the bar was set too high for what Christmas was supposed to look and feel like. It’s mostly Hollywood’s’ fault. The idyllic perfection of a cinematic white Christmas with the Norman Rockwell family is almost impossible for anyone to live up to. Hallmark cards and December seasonal commercials throw still more fuel on the festive fire.
The images are overwhelming. Soldiers running to their wives in slow motion through the snow; Grey haired, loving moms with wet hands and an apron; those damned Budweiser Clydesdales with a basket full of cuddly Dalmatian puppies. Even Scrooge would shed a tinsel tear. I do. And then get back to the business at hand. Worrying.
I think there’s loneliness or a longing at the heart of what we feel. In my case it may be something I missed more than something I miss. In other words I’m not looking back on a glorious childhood memory. I’m looking back at decades of Christmases that never quite delivered the complete full tilt “It’s a Wonderful Life” emotional high. I’ve tried to recreate that zenith of pure surprise and joy for others. For my family and friends. Although I never felt like a complete failure, I also never felt like I’d really delivered.
“I wish I could be Santa Claus
For just one day
I’d fill a bag with kindness and I’d give it all away”
I’d make the world a better place
I’d do that if I could
I love the way it feels inside when I do something good.”
Hmm. Work as therapy. Yes, my inner life shows up regularly in my songs. It’s right there in the lyrics I wrote for Gonzo to sing in “Letters To Santa”. So part of the way I’ve been able to deal with my personal collection of emotional bumps, bruises and Noel neurosis is by using them in the creative process. Resources for my psyche’s rhyming rescue I suppose. Never a conscious thought at the time but I see it now.
How do you handle your hidden fears? Your seasonal sadness. Do you know when, where or why you began to feel the tension that grows with the coming of the holidays?
If fear of not measuring up is at the heart of your Christmas blues I have some very simple advice. I should have taken it myself years ago. Stop comparing. To compare is to despair. Whether your celebrating Christmas or Hanukah let the spirit of the event be the raft you cling to when the tidings of discomfort and “Oy vey” rise within you. Remember why we gather together in the first place.
We celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The Prince of Peace. We celebrate the rededication of the Temple, the Festival of Lights and the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days when there was barely enough for one.
We don’t celebrate long lines and shopping lists and we don’t need to worry about what we’re giving as long as it’s offered with love.
Who you are isn’t really about how much you do. If you give from the heart it’s enough. If you’re living your life in love and service to the best of your ability, you can throw away the calculator and measuring stick. The results may vary but the intention to do good is pure gold. It’s a gift to the world and yes, it’s enough. It’s Love and one size fits all. It’s your best chance of sharing in a season decorated in the joyful colors of gratitude and trust,