I recently went to a party, recently enough that I can say it was in mid-December. People I knew from Minneapolis to Baltimore to parts of Virginia were all there, mostly swing dancers. The political belief spectrum ranged from Conservative to Liberal, the religious spectrum ranged from Catholic to Atheist. I drifted around, glomming onto one conversational bubble and then popping off and landing in another and so forth. I didn’t hear every conversation, of course, but from what I did experience I noted: there was only one mention of Christmas from anyone besides me. My friend, Jerry, distributed the awesomest compilation CD of Ellington music as a Christmas gift.
I, myself, brought up Christmas for three separate occasions: 1) I asked Lee about his Christmas travel plans (they were intense). 2) I said I played Christmas music in the car ride there (everybody in earshot proclaimed that they hated Christmas music). 3) Sommer asked me what I had been up to and I mentioned my Christmas blog (resulted in a half-hour debate on atheism versus agnosticism).
It wasn’t that cold of a night and it was raining, not snowing. There were no carolers and if you had stepped outside of the rowhouse to look up and down the street there in the Baltimore neighborhood of Reservoir Hill, you would have seen no Christmas decorations from that vantage point. I stopped by a CVS that night and saw a plethora of Christmas merchandise, and driving through other neighborhoods on the way home, I saw plenty of signs that people were remembering the holiday — but nothing right there in the center of Baltimore.
I felt a bit lost. That’s not too unusual for me at a party since I don’t drink and I never seem to remember any crazy stories to tell. But at that party I felt particularly lost because I would have expected that in a slightly random sampling of more than twenty-five people that at least a few would mention the federal holiday that is a part of millions of people’s lives that was less than two weeks away. But my expectations were not met. In the house itself, there were no Christmas cards or a tree that I could see. To be fair, I think that cats lived in that house, so a tree would just be a target. Still, the total lack of recognition of this occasion, that I am trying very hard to embrace, disoriented me.
I have no qualms about telling people that I’m agnostic, nor does it bother me to let people know that I like Christmas. The social pressures of where I live, work, and play do make me feel uncomfortable saying, “Merry Christmas!” but I try anyway. If there were some sort of apparel I could wear that would indicate that I like Christmas, that didn’t look horribly tacky, I would wear it. As it is, I tend to wear more greens and reds at this time of year than any other. If there were something succinct that I could say that indicated a general feeling of friendliness and compassion but at the same time that I am agnostic, I would say it. The phrase “Please don’t feel compelled to have a blessed day on my account as I am not sure if there is a God who could bestow that blessing upon you” doesn’t really roll off the tongue, and besides sounds a bit confrontational.
At that party, since there was nothing there to remind me of the holiday, and because there was general zaniness happening and some good stories being recounted, I forgot for those few hours about Christmas. On the one hand, it saddens me that I couldn’t share my attempts to be festive for the season with those people, but on the other hand, it was a pretty fun party. I could have made a concerted effort to bring the topic into play, but at least a few people there responded to my minor mentions of Christmas in a way that made me suspect that such an effort could actually diminish their fun. I don’t want to make anyone less happy just so that they’ll be conscious of Christmas. That would be missing a bit part of the point of the whole thing.
At the end of the five hours or so that I spent there, I had barely mentioned Christmas as I said above, but it was still a fun party. I got to spend some time in the company of some people I like, participated in some hilarious discussions, and witnessed some other zaninesses. I somewhat got a holiday experience without overt mention of the enormous, four-ton holiday itself. That’s not such a bad thing, really.
Besides, I left behind as a present to the hostess, a Pannetone (an Italian holiday fruitcake).