by Axie Barclay

This statement probably won’t win many supporters, but I just have to say that I don’t like Christmas. Not just the tinsel and stupid songs, but because my grandpa died before Christmas. December 15th. As his favorite grandchild, I won’t say I miss him the most, but certainly feel the lack of him far more as the years go by. I wonder often what he would say about things, what he would tell me to do. I miss his laugh and his sense of humor. Perhaps that’s why Christmas makes me testy and nostalgic rather than cheery. In that vein, thinking about what the time of year means, and especially in thinking about what my grandpa loved so much about it, seems more productive than focusing on the twelve ways Santa can go have an intimate moment with a hockey ornament.

First, a little bit about the Christmas holidays themselves and what they represent. They don’t just mark a special day to trade bookstore gift cards or nifty reading accessories (bookmark or clip-on bedtime reading light anyone?), but historically represented the last occasion of the year to muster our resources – in the way of food, family, and friends – in anticipation of the long, dark push into spring. It’s a holiday of celebration and renewal, with ancient people at their fires, family and friends gathered close around, for the last feast of the year before the longest night on the equinox, December 21, huddled together waiting and praying for the sun to return. At its heart, that is what Christmas is about, the fire to bring back the sun, the evergreen to mark life, red berries like blood to note the sacrifice that is sometimes necessary in life. While most of us never think of such ties to nature or the cycle of the year, that’s really what holidays represent, Christmas, Easter, May Day, Halloween, all festivals to mark the cycles of the year, helping people live in harmony with the seasons.

As the darkest time of the year approaches, it’s a time to take stock of the year, in what we have lost, but also in what we have gained. This reviewer, for her part, lost the man she thought she’d marry this year due to irreconcilable visions of the future together, as well as in how we saw one another. That loss shouldn’t have happened. You’re not supposed to have to break up with someone you love and who loves you back. But sometimes the cost for what you want is too high and whether that choice is right, wrong, or indifferent, it has to be made. But, on the other hand, the gains returned ten-fold in the form of rekindled friendships and a new-found self-confidence that never would have occurred otherwise. In some cases losses are less about giving up than in realizing something else more important exists. That’s what the holidays should be used to remind us of: what’s truly valuable to and in ourselves. Finding that perfect gift or planning the perfect party doesn’t matter. But knowing, deep down in your guts, what’s most important does.

Back in the winter of 2006, at least here in Michigan, the winter had turned pretty dark. The economic collapse hit us first and with the uncertainty and fear, the whole community stank of it. We were out in a cousin’s pole barn, with many others, with a fire and a table spread with food, the older people and the babies, beers in hand; with men over fifty, looking as grizzled and tough-as-nails in their grimy Carhartt’s and winter beards, cooing over the baby to amazing comedic effect. One guy, not the most reflective of men, during a quiet moment, said something that’s stuck with me ever since. It came to the effect of “This is what it’s all about. Good friends and family, food, a good fire. No matter what happens, this is what it all comes down to.”

Now, it may not be that way for everyone, but for this reviewer, those are the basics that life comes down to. It didn’t hit me until tonight that this is the very reason my grandpa loved the holidays so much. Having lived through the Depression he loved sitting and watching everyone eat. When he finished, often he’d sit with his elbows on the table, hands covering a smile as he watched the family joke and banter with one another. He loved seeing us all together and his laugh, like all Barclay laughs, could fill a room. So when I picture my grandpa, I see a robust man who loved to joke and be with his family. It makes Christmas a little less annoying… (but seriously, who buys each other cars for Christmas? The ads are just infuriating).

Books begin with words, plants begin with roots, and family, food, and fire are the basics of life. When all the rest is stripped away, this is what you need to survive. With all the holiday hoopla and stress nowadays, it might be nice to remember that to help put the rest in perspective as we all look into 2012. For this reviewer, 2012 will come with these basics: family, friends, fire, and good food. It’s a way to keep my grandpa’s memory and legacy alive, and a way to stay close to him. Hopefully 2012 will be a good and prosperous year for everyone, if not in cash or worldly goods, then in friendships. Remember to nurture the basics of family and friends through the coldest months of the year the same way you’d nurture words on the page, or roots of a plant. Because, when it’s all said and done, these basics are everything a person has. Love fades and money vanishes and the people who stick with you, pretty or ugly, rich or poor, are the ones who count.

And if the person you’re with doesn’t appreciate a good fire and dirty jokes, it’s their loss.

Axie Barclay is a Michigan writer with a cow-habit. Having discovered the joys and potential for growth in alternative agriculture, she quests ever longer and harder for ways to combine farming and writing into a business. When not milking cows, making disgruntled noises at the latest disgusting thing the heeler dogs dredge up, riding horses, or keeping the fence up around her small beef herd, she’s holed up reading an eclectic array of books or tapping out pages. When not working, she enjoys kicking back with her honey, family, and friends at a bonfire with some beers. Chat her up on Twitter and Facebook, /axieb, or where she delves into literature and agriculture with a relish… and occasionally ketchup. Soon to be homemade.