After a certain age, Christmas becomes a season of regret: The loss of loved ones over the years, the loss of friends, the loss of youth. The loss of all those Mattel toys that would now fetch a fortune on eBay. The sad truth is that the best Christmas in middle age cannot match the least one of childhood. But the important thing is to pretend otherwise.
I go back and forth on this, but today I figure the holiday is bigger than I am. It's not really my right to succumb to cynicism and say to hell with the lights and the tree and the travel and the shopping. I figure Christmas has lasted this long because guys like me see a little bit of ourselves in Ebenezer Scrooge, and each year take small steps to minimize the resemblance.
So this weekend I'll again be up on the ladder, cursing lights that in 12 months have become a Gordian knot. I'll be setting out luminaria, as is the custom in my neighborhood, and cursing the candles that won't stay lit --also a custom. I'll wander dazedly through a discount store, trying to intuit the tastes and sizes and color preferences of those I count close. I'll resist the urge to curse the crowds.
Yes, it's a tremendous hassle and you wonder if it's worth it. An Old Navy sweater can't perfectly express what someone means to you, but it's better than a gift card, and a whole lot better than nothing. My holiday lighting may tend toward the austere, but when families drive by at night, the house won't be dark. I am prone to introspection, but I guarantee I won't be passing up any party invitations.
You lose a lot over the decades. You don't want to lose your traditions. December's a dark month, a cold season. Christmas is the crackling fire, and only a foolish man would foreswear the wood to keep it going.