Some of us find it easy to be cynical this time of year. Everyone should have a hobby, even if it’s cynicism. But it would be unseemly to pick on the holidays right now when so many people are feeling apprehensive and vulnerable. That is, just plain scared out of their wits. I never liked this expression very much – “things could be worse” – because it’s facile and dismissive. And quite meaningless. Having said that (another meaningless expression), it’s heartening to know that Timothy Geithner has not ordered the suspension of Christmas until fiscal 2011 or that, to my knowledge, there is no Home Shoplifting Channel on cable right now. Not yet.
Recently Tony Bennett was asked what it was like to grow up during the Great Depression. His answer was surprising: “It was terrific,” Tony said. “Everyone knew their neighbor, and everyone looked out for each other. It was a great time.”
Tony always kept his glass half-full.
In the past, it was traditional to make a meek request for tidings of comfort and joy. All right. So we lost joy in the stock market. We’ll settle for simple comfort this year. That’s what people really want. They want to feel safe again. They want something or someone to hold onto. There is uncertainty everywhere. It’s a good time to be in love. It’s a good time to find comfort wherever it may be found.
I find comfort by walking through dog-friendly and somewhat people-friendly Huntington Park atop Nob Hill. Grace Cathedral stands over the park with a stately, Gothic, timeless reassurance. I find comfort by gazing down California Street in the custody of the clattering cable cars, and see the smart, sharp outlines of white lights that frame the Embarcadero Center this time of year. This looks like San Francisco is all dressed-up for a holiday party, in a tux, looking terribly grown-up. There was a time when sophistication without pretentiousness was a valuable thing. Perhaps that was a pretentious thing to say. I’ll risk it.
My old friend, the Christmas Curmudgeon, is not pretentious. He keeps his glass half-empty. That’s because he’s always spilling his drink.
I caught a glimpse of the half-empty curmudgeon the other night. He was lurking under the half-moon amid the shadows in Huntington Park, at the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony. The Christmas Curmudgeon is not a cynic. He simply can’t enjoy himself while others are suffering. There’s compassion underneath his crusty exterior. He still embraces enough humanity to be outraged. But no one was outraged this evening as the holiday lights suddenly illuminated the trees in the park. There was a sigh of pleasure from the crowd.
The genteel, unflappable Simon Harrington, the Big 4’s food and beverage director, handed out cups of hot chocolate. The S.F. Girls Chorus sang like angels before the park’s fountain. It was all very comforting.
I saw a familiar-looking couple standing off by themselves, silhouetted by the cathedral lights. They were oblivious to the world, and paid no attention to this eavesdropper.
The half-moon, showing itself through the clouds, hovered in the black sky.
I sauntered closer to the couple. She whispered hopefully, anxiously, to him, “It’s going to be a good Christmas this year, isn’t it?”
He murmured to her with all the courage he could muster, holding her close to him, feeling her tremble, “Yes, my darling, it’s going to be the best.”
Bruce Bellingham is crazy about the holidays. He thinks everyone should be happy this time of the year, and should be filled with the spirit of comfort and joy – in the words of Gavin Newsom, whether you like it or not. Talk to Bruce at email@example.com