One of the advantages of boondocking in the deserts of the American southwest, is the absence of Christmas.
That is, if you consider that an advantage.
Call me a Scrooge, if you want, but the sight of creosote bush, ocotillo, and desert scrub doesn’t really conjure up images of a Winter Wonderland, even if it was covered in a light blanket of snow. But moreover, there are no street lights adorned in red ribbon and holly, and no nativity scenes on intersections. There are no houses encrusted with blinking lights, no automobiles with wreaths mounted to the grill, and no Bruce Springsteen or Whitney Houston cantering secular seasonal strains.
But then again, it’s not that I’m a Scrooge, I’m just not religious in the traditional sense. That is, my parents were not religious either, and didn’t attend church, talk about God, or even make references to the Bible. Imagine, being an American born citizen, and not ever understanding anything about God or Jesus. Imagine watching Charlie Brown Christmas, and then being totally lost when Linus recites the nativity story.
And then, there’s the commercial aspect of it all. It’s not the just the gift-giving, but the expectation of gift-giving. Sash and I now have grandchildren, and any level-headed American would want their grandchildren to enjoy all the American traditions that other kids get to enjoy. But, it’s the expectation that gets me.
That’s why I like living on the road. I can get away from it by setting up camp in a place like this and removing myself from that madness, at least until the inevitable.
When I was a little boy, we still celebrated Christmas, but purely in the tradition of gift giving, and not necessarily family get-togethers. My dad was in the Navy, and it seems we were rarely close to family. We did put up a Christmas tree, and we did hang stockings. But the only reason why we celebrated Christmas was because my dad was born and raised in the United States. My mother, however, was not. She was born and raised in Japan. In fact, she was born in 1940, just a year before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and at that point, Japanese people had suddenly thrown out any and all American traditions like day-old sushi. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Japanese people reintroduced the American folklore of Santa Claus to their culture.
By the time I was born, in the 1960s, Japanese kids had come to expect Christmas as much as American kids did.
But my mother was a different creature. Christmas was never her deal. Her life growing up in post-war Japan was not the success story that General MacArthur illustrated to folks in the States. She would grow up poor, ashamed, and angry. There was never any Christmas for her. However, considering she married an American, and eventually gave birth to me, she wanted me to experience all the accoutrements a typical American boy experiences. As soon as I grew up into adulthood, however, she and I made a deal that we would no longer exchange Christmas gifts with each other. To this day, that deal still stands.
And now, I see the lunacy that Christmas has become. It’s not about gift-giving as it is about consumer spending. Yet despite how crassly commercial this time of year is, there is still that desire to make sure every child grows up with the cherished memories of Christmas morning.
The desert is still the same desert as any other time of the year, just colder at the present moment. It presents a largely empty canvass with which I can paint my own interpretations of reality without any holiday symbolism to get in the way. I could, just stay here among the sand, scrub and barren landscape, and not ever know that Christmas came and went, just like my Japanese ancestors had always done. I could just sit here inside our trailer and hide out long enough until the last utterances of “returns” and “exchanges” finally leaves the post-holiday vernacular.
But for Sash and I, there still is that westernized clock ticking inside that implores us to gather with family and shower our grandchildren with wrapped gifts. Just like when I was a kid, and I had come to expect presents every Christmas, now I see myself in my mother’s position, wanting to make sure these young kids are filled with the same wonder and anticipation that I was. As much as I’ve grown to loathe what Christmas has become, I still want to leave those kids with the memory of grandpa and grandma bringing gifts, even if they may one day grow to loath the commercialization of it all, and the burden of expectation.