I take a deep breath, and feel the QL cautiously release a bit, the paraspinals ease, the curve of my lower back open a little. The extra pounds I put on over the holidays are pushing against the tenth and eleventh ribs, at my sides above my hips, and against the xiphoid process (that tip of bone at the bottom of the sternum). Sometimes I get back to a more human way of eating right after Christmas, but this year I kept eating like a mall-dweller, clear through till now, the official final day of the holidays.
Our counselor recently asked me to give him a physical description of my holiday anxiety, and seemed a little surprised, possibly a little disappointed, when I could give him a quite precise one, right off the bat. Hey, this is my territory: the body and the visualization of emotional states. It's a stiffness of the whole chest and abdominal cavity, knotted together by the abdominals and the QL, a turgid, steel blue mass, slightly colder than body temperature. As if an alien insect had laid its eggs in my thorax, midway between the xiphoid and the navel, and the egg sac was pushing everything outwards, and in the meantime all the muscles of the spine and abdomen were poisoned and ossifying, growing ever stiffer, weaker, and less serviceable.
I had played with the idea of radical withdrawal, of declaring unilaterally that I do not celebrate Christmas or any of its trumped up simulacra (Kwanzaa, Hannukah-on-Steroids, whatever.) And if I thought it would solve the problem, and give me back the last month of every year, I'd do it. But in fact it is my holiday, my ethnic tradition, for better and worse, and I'd be throwing out the baby with the bath. Whether the holiday is foisted on me, as a Buddhist, is a meaningless question. There's no such thing as a culture without festival times. The trouble is not the holiday -- commercialized and coercive and full of bizarre superstitions though it may be -- the problem is that I go limp and play possum in its presence, hoping that it will just nose me about a bit and then wander off, rather than deciding to eat me. I need to decide how I celebrate Christmas, and celebrate it that way, and the hell with everyone else.
I realized, as we celebrated what we call “our little Christmas” on December 26th -- “little” because it's what we do with “our little family,” rather than our extended family -- that I actually like the gift-giving, on a reasonable scale, and without the sense of obligation. It's the industrialized Christmas, with the extravagant feast and thousands of dollars of shoddy products changing hands in a feverish potlatch of mutual disappointment, that I hate. That, and having allowed “our little Christmas” to be marginalized. Our little Christmas shouldn't be the little one. It's the big one, and it ought to be the center of our celebration.
I've thought along these lines before -- a couple years ago I even went so far as to send out Christmas cards, for the first time in thirty-some years -- but I've never been so aware of it, and never so determined to change it. To make it happen, of course, I'm going to have to start preparing well beforehand, making my plans apparent to everyone before anyone else starts planning -- in August, say. And I'll have to make a strict list of the people I'm giving gifts, and figure something out for everyone, which will take sustained effort, and will require admitting to myself, long before December, that Christmas is coming and that I am going to celebrate it. Celebrate it. Not weather it.