Christmas is bearing down on me again, like a dump truck headed for a wide-eyed rabbit. This will be my second Christmas in Florida, and once again the sight of poinsettias growing outdoors in flowerbeds is freaking me out. In the North, I always wondered why they were the Christmas flower, as they are utterly, completely, 100% intolerant of cold air. One year, a friend sold poinsettias to friends…then transported them from the greenhouse to her house in the back of a pickup truck. They all died. Normally, we would purchase one at the store – K-Mart, say. We would then wrap our winter coat around the plant at the door of the store, dash from the store to our car, shivering in the cold. We’d put the coat-wrapped flower on the floor of the car, directly under the heater-duct – but leave the coat on the plant while we started the motor and made sure actual hot air came from the heater. Then we’d repeat the process to get the plant from car to house.
And here they’re out in the open air, growing happily at the curb. Nyaaa-aarngh…
Christmas is different in another way here in Florida. It is apparently the unhappiest part of the year…just barely more unhappy than, well, every other day of the year. Nobody is festive. Nobody smiles. “Merry Christmas,” or even the dreaded “Happy Holidays” is just not on anyone’s lips. Wait, I take that back – the guys who sold me a Christmas tree said it, and so did the old woman in the Rascal Powerchair this afternoon. Other than that, it’s just sour faces and unmitigated materialism. Just this morning, while I was slogging to work in combined construction zone/school zone traffic, I watched the faces on about 100 drivers in a slow-moving line of oncoming traffic. There was exactly ONE with a smile. The rest had sour expressions – so Mr. Santa Hat And Smile who was on Boyette Road at about 7:45 this morning…thank you.
And then there’s the giving. Where is it? I’m used to the holiday season being full of guilt-ridden exhortations to give to the needy. Not here. Aside from the national charity campaigns, there is virtually no call to donate to local charities here. I think it’s the overwhelmingly conservative political leaning here. Time and again I hear some variation of “it’s my money, I earned it, why should I give it to people who don’t want to work for it?” I think charities have a really hard sell down here, and that a lot of people won’t give any money unless they get something for it – I see 5k runs for charity, and car washes for charity, and other events like that where participants get to participate, and get a t-shirt or something, and some (small) percentage of the fee gets donated to charity. But in any case, Christmas doesn’t seem to be the time of giving to any large degree down here.
Heck, last year my wife made cookie platters for our neighbors, like she’s done for years when we lived up North. The overwhelming response she got from our neighbors was. “Oh. I didn’t get you anything.” That, my friends, is very different from “thank you.” They even generally managed to sound faintly offended that she would hand them cookies, unbidden. This year she’s not doing it, and it hurts her to give it up.
So yeah, Christmas is coming, but it really feels kind of like going through the motions. Sure, there are lights on houses, and garland on stuff…but the people seem to be doing it because they’re supposed to, not because they’re projecting any real festive spirit. We have lights on the house and shrubbery, and a nice Christmas tree all decorated, and Christmas thingies hanging about the house…but I know I’m not feeling any real festivity right now. In part it’s because it still feels wrong to have 80-degree weather at Christmas. In part it’s because everyone out and about is just so dang sour – it couldn’t possibly be “the most wonderful time of the year.” Could it?