Ahhh, July. The mid-summer. The dead middle of all things hot and smelling of suntan lotion mixed with bubble solution.
When I was a kid, ever so long ago, July shopping would bring bathing suits on slight discount, a plethora of plastic outside toys, and none too few kiddie pools.
I was at Target with Moira and Sabra the week of July 4th. Large banners alerted us to the idea that we should be BACK TO SCHOOL! There were already firework t-shirts on sale and tankinis marked down to $3.74. It would seem that the summer is nearly over, according to retailers.
I've grown used to this. It seems that every year marks another notch in the belt of the retail world; another move towards getting merchandise out faster and sooner!
I used to eschew all types of 'early' merchandising. And in a way, I still do. I don't really feel like looking at costume pumpkins made of orange felt when it is still hot enough to wear halter tops. And who wants to see evil school supplies the first week of July? I don't even like to look at school supplies when it is time to actually purchase them. It makes me all itchy and I have flash-back nightmares for weeks. I dream about being in the school quad, unsure of my locker combo. (Shivers and cowers in fear).
But notice that I say 'used to'. I don't have tons of anger towards the poor retailers anymore. Especially when they start putting out Christmas decorations next to the school supplies.
Before you being lamenting the loss of the special, hallowed time of Yule, let me attempt to explain.
A few years ago I was visiting Costco with Moira. She was two at the time, and we were most likely in the store to buy a year's supply of diapers and cereal bars. Incidentally, she no longer enjoys cereal bars. This is a perhaps little known side effect of bulk shopping. Perhaps if I bought bulk candy bars and cookies, I would lose my taste for those altogether.
After Moira peeked into the tents on display and asked for the large wheel of cheese, we walked around to the 'seasonal' section. It was July, and I thought that perhaps we might get a jump on the Halloween costumes. Perhaps there would be the perfect concoction of tulle and beads and frosty fabric, and if I put the cheese wheel back, I could purchase such a delight!
I was shocked to find that instead of orange and brown and paper plates with witches, my eyes were instead met with red, green, and life-sized snow globes.
Christmas, it seemed, had come to Costco.
My dad was shopping with us, and bemoaned the exploitation of people's sensibilities. He was frustrated with the loss of the ordained time of cold weather, hot cocoa, and twinkly lights.
I felt the same way. At least, I felt that I should feel the same way.
But Moira was meanwhile reaching for the Rock-N-Roll Santa Claus with a look of utter wonder on her little face. Though I quite honestly detest those horrific talking Santas, I shared her sense of appreciation.
It felt like an oasis in the middle of a dry and dusty desert.
While looking at my distorted reflection in a decorated ornamental sphere, I realized why, in the middle of the middle of the summer, I was longing for scarves and carols.
I needed some magic.
I love history, and my impression of the past as a whole leaves me to believe that we have been marching ever towards a more 'realistic' life, a less 'fantastical' existence, and a life without wonder. As the centuries progress and society progresses, we shed more and more of that old lore that tells us that there is more to life than what we can see.
And though we would deny the need for such fairy tales, I do believe that we want them.
Don't get me wrong, I do not desire to needlessly believe that I live in a tower and one day will be rescued by fair Sir Galahad.
No, I talk not of these types of tales so much as the ones that tell us that there is more to life than what we can ever understand.
Why do we love Narnia? Because it is magical and good, or magical and bad; either way, it is magical!
Why Harry Potter? Because the good always wins and you can fly on a broom!
Why do I want to sit and share a basket of mushrooms with Samwise Gamgee? Because his world makes me see my own with new eyes that I don't want to become blind to.
Why Christmas? Because it is the one time of the year when giving someone a basket of food isn't 'contributing to their problem and not letting them learn from their mistakes'. It is the season that remains one of giving, of sharing, and of not knowing why the carol brings tears to your eyes but enjoying it anyways! I think that Christmastide positively crackles with magical electricity, and that we crave it just as we crave life and breath and love.
Strangely, I see this deficiency more within the Christian community than without. Evangelical Christians have believed, I think, that if they continue to shed their claims to miraculous and fantastic, they will be seen as more sane. Excuse me, but no. At the heart of Christian faith is an incarnate God who died and then came back to life? If you believe that this is true, then you will understand that no amount of scientific proof or exegetical study will prove this to someone who does not wish to believe.
In the end...you just have to assume that something is true and then go with it. It really isn't any more scientific than Santa Claus or Tinkerbell. But I'm getting off track and most likely frightening you. I do not believe that Tinkerbell is Jesus' mother, so no angry letters, please.
What I'm trying to get at is that I think we have lost our ability to appreciate the things we cannot understand. We have plucked away the spiritual references in life, we have stripped bare the romantic sense of music and art, and we have buried the notion that a magical life is not a deluded one.
And yet we long for love like in the plays, we yearn for the miracles of long ago, and we nearly pant at the one remaining link we have to all that is golden and glittering and mysterious: Christmas.
I'm sure it is not all that bad; I usually get carried away with my ideas. But it does feel somewhat true, at least in the barren wasteland of the middle of July.
Since the eye-opening, soul-barring experience in Costco, I have tried to make a conscious effort to find the mysterious and mystical things about life and just enjoy them.
And guess what? It made my spirituality more complete. I used to scoff at those who said they didn't need answers to certain things in life, but now...not so much. This doesn't mean I sit on my thumbs and eat cream puffs all day. No, I do look for answers and long for clarity. But at the end of the day, I know that no matter how much I study or sweat or pray, I'm never going to understand everything.
And in a way, the best things about life are those that afford no answers. The best things in my life are those that I just have to accept: the love of my children, the bond I share with my friends, the strange pull I have towards flip-flops. They just are, and no amount of tearing down the issue will tell me how in the name of all that is sane I can love these little beings that wake me up and break things and make things dirty and chaotic.
So I stopped trying to understand it all and just accepted that it is so. Some things are too wonderful to try to understand. Some things are too mysterious to clarify, and some things are just too magical to take apart and look at close up.
To retailers, Christmas in July just means that they can start cashing in on the biggest sales event of the year.
But they are only able to sell because people are buying.
Why are they buying?
I think they want more magic in their life, and the only reference they have comes once a year.
Happy Christmas, one and all. I'll warrant you haven't had anyone say that to you in July.
Would you like a cup of cocoa? I make excellent cocoa.