Have Yourself a Merry Little Habit
EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week, Geoff Carter did a spoken-word reading at The Griffin in downtown Las Vegas with his longtime friends, writers Dayvid Figler and Gregory Crosby. Here, in edited form, is Carter’s closing piece.
It’s good to be with you, my beloved Las Vegas mobile vulgaris, for this, my 22nd Christmas. It’s particularly good to be back in business with Messrs. Crosby and Figler, providing the muddy contrast that will make their prose and poems seem all the more shiny and Pulitzer-worthy.
By now, the people sitting in the front row have figured out that I’m not 22 years old. Here’s the thing: for the first 20 years of my life, I didn’t celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanza or any of the two-dozen other holidays crammed into these last few weeks of the year. I celebrated my first non-denominational holiday, erm, who-zha-ma-whatsis in 1987, and it marked two occasions: My embrace of the financial model that keeps our retail infrastructure afloat, and my last real day as a Jehovah’s Witness. I’d fallen out of that faith nearly two years before, but had continued to live as one of them. Christmas changed that. Once a Witness has decked the halls, there’s noel going back.
Coming into the Christmas thing as an adult has its drawbacks. You have to start listening to, and developing warm and fuzzy feelings for, the Christmas songs that once had the power to get you banned from the Kingdom of Jehovah. You have to try to understand the whole Santa thing, even though it’s absurd on its bearded face. And you have to go through the motions – trimming the tree, wrapping the gifts, tolerating the relatives – with only a vague understanding of why anyone would want to do any of these things.
It’s never stopped being difficult for me to make with the glad tidings. Even now, at this most sacred holiday-themed reading, I could take or leave this whole thing. I’ve always understood the basic tenets of Christmas, at least as Charles Dickens and Charlie Brown and Donny and Marie express them: Love and cherish your friends and family, be content with your place in the world, show kindness to strangers and so on. Believe it or not, I was doing all that stuff before John Denver and the Muppets told me to.
But I still haven’t connected all of that with the rituals. I don’t know what practicing loving-kindness has to do with all the gifts, or what it has to do with making the inside and outside of your home look like the inside and outside of Elton John. I’ve connected all the light strings like you’ve told me to, but not all of them light up.
The best I’ve been able to manage is to form habits. Every year, I try to do the same things again and again in hopes that I’ll be able to light those dead bulbs. I listen to the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” even though I’m sick to death of it. I spend a sizeable chunk of the season with my family – wrapping and unwrapping gifts, visiting Disneyland, or watching the Alistair Sim version of “A Christmas Carol” while enjoying our traditional dinner of deli sandwiches and jug wine. And I get together with my two favorite writers and enjoy their brilliant work from the best seat in this room. I am willing my Christmas into being, piece by habitual piece.
Maybe that’s what all of us are doing here. Maybe the things we call traditions are merely habits. Even tightening up your sphincter and decrying the whole tinsel-strewn affair as being too American or too commercial year after year is a holiday habit. I prefer to think of these as habits, because habits can be changed or improved or ignored. Traditions have to be observed, maintained; habits only need be done or not done. We don’t have to treat the holidays as a bottle-service nightclub; anyone can get in here, and once inside, we can do anything we want.
So, on the eve of my 22nd Christmas, I wish you the happiest of habits. I wish you a most happy Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Festivus, Krampus Eve, Life Day or Feast of Alvis. And if you’re a hater, I wish you a most happy hate. I want you to feel free to keep these last three weeks of this miserable decade in the best way you know how. And I want to thank the Jehovah’s Witnesses for keeping me close for those first two decades of my life, because if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here right now, in the presence of dear friends, reveling in the consistency of my winter habits.