We all have a holiday memory. The first one that comes to my mind is receiving He-Man's Castle Grey Skull for Christmas when I was in second grade. As they said back in 1985, it was Boss!
Not only was I head over heels about the gift, but it further solidified my belief in Santa Claus. There was no way on earth my parents would have sprung for He-Man's fortress. I mean it was fifty dollars! Five. Zero. I knew that for a fact, because I looked at the price in the toy aisle at K-Mart or Zares or Toys R Us or one of those places that had toy aisles I used to wind through, mouth open, checking prices. I mean who spends fifty dollars on just one gift? And that was just for me. I had three other siblings! Who would do such a thing? Santa, that's who. It was clearly the only explanation.
Most of my memories are pleasant ones. Some are not, but I'm happy to say that when they weren't, I was a part of a family that worked through those problems... To some degree.
We had our traditions: Eating breakfast and going to church before being allowed to open presents. Putting up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. Lighting candles on an advent wreath each night before dinner. I didn't understand it at the time but it was all about preparation and a sort of earned satisfaction. It was all very Catholic. I don't mean that in a deragatory way. It was a central aspect of my upbringing and it did make Christmas Eve and Christmas morning extremely special.
Music was also a HUGE part of the Christmas season for me. I used to lie in bed and make up elaborate stream of conscience Christmas songs about decorations, snow and presents, singing to myself until I drifted off, or was told to politely, "Go To Sleep!"
And Christmas records! We weren't allowed to get them out until after Santa Claus appeared in the Macy's parade and you better believe after he laid that chubby finger on the side of his nose in Herald Square, I was immediately listening to Bing and the Andrew Sisters as they Jingled all the Waaay! Again, the waiting, although excruciating, made it special.
The music, is really the only tradition that I've kept when it comes to my own family. Even though I now have some perspective on my own childhood traditions, I also remember the waiting being stressful. Sometimes when preparation and expectation becomes the focus, the moment, the thing you are preparing for, can pass you by. There is no present (no pun intended). There's only the idea of the moment to come, followed immediately by the evaluation once the moment has passed. The moment, the thing prepared for, is lost in perpetual state of anticipation and analysis. See I'm still analyzing it today!
This week, the performance group Erasing The Distance, of which I am a company member, has put up The Holidays Unwrapped at the Edge Theatre here in Chicago. It's a documentary theatre piece, pulling stories from nine individuals as they reflect on their family, friends and traditions around the holidays. It's new piece of theatre that we hope will become it's own tradition here in Chicago.
As a company we continue to explore mental health not just as something that is diagnosable, but as an integral part of living. The Holidays Unwrapped sheds light on a period of time when our mental well being is pushed and pulled in a multitude of directions: The holidays are a mixed bag of comedy and drama, love and loss, highs (Castle Grey Skull!) and lows.
The stories told in this piece offer a glimpse into the lives of individuals as they navigate the holiday maze. Music also plays a major role in the piece and I am happy to be on stage with Joshua Wentz playing original arrangements of some holiday favorites. So join me and the rest of the cast next week for the final three performances of The Holidays Unwrapped. December 18th, 19th, and 20th at The Edge Theatre. Tickets and more info are here.