Great Expectations

“Oft expectation fails, and most oft where most it promises.” — William Shakespeare

Story Adele Elliott

Expectation and anticipation are heartbreakers. Carly Simon penned a song about it while waiting for a date with Cat Stevens. However, ’tis the season when we have great hopes for perfect holidays.

And why not? We work extra hard cooking and cleaning, shopping and wrapping. Our holiday should be Christmas-card perfect. Somehow, it just isn’t.

I learned this lesson early. At about age 12, I wrote a Christmas play that starred my younger brother’s Boy Scout troop as elves, and our Doberman pinscher as a deer. Alas, this play was never presented. As it turns out, Eva Bernice (the dog) was easier to direct than the Scouts.

But, that failure set up a long-standing custom of trying too hard. Everyone has their holiday traditions. Disappointment is one of mine.

I do not give myself the entire blame for this disenchantment. Some responsibility surely rests on the shoulders of Madison Avenue pitchmen. They are purveyors of the unrealistic and improbable.

People in television commercials are the recipients of fantastic and extreme gifts. They emerge from their uber-clean, professionally-decorated homes, totally surprised to find a luxury limo topped with a huge red bow. I have never seen such a bow in real life. How is it that the car is somehow kept secret until Christmas morning, even though it is larger than some apartments I have lived in?  

In the world of advertising, the holiday season means soft drifts of velvety snow. I grew up in the sub-tropics of New Orleans. There, we solved the climate problem by cranking up the air conditioning full blast so we could have a fire roaring in the hearth on Christmas Eve. New Orleanians are masters of fantasy (as demonstrated by Mardi Gras, a subject of future columns). Illusion is our forté (as demonstrated by transvestites, probably not the subject of a future column).  

I have never completely understood why residents of the deep, Deep South build homes with fireplaces anyway. Do we really believe a reclaimed swamp can morph into a scene from “Christmas in Connecticut?” Yes, Virginia, we do, because we are imaginative and perhaps a bit eccentric.

Let’s face it: We know that Southerners are the best cooks in the world. Why must we go out of our way to prove it by baking and roasting, canning and preserving anything we can harvest or bag? Relax! There are such things as stores, now. It is not a sin to buy something pre-made. Remember, you can always scrape off the big-brand label and slap on one you scribbled by hand.

We should lower our standards and give ourselves the gift of abolishing stress. No one will be unhappy with a re-gift, or a promise for something by the Feast of the Epiphany. It might be fun to unwrap a box just a bit after Christmas. Now, there’s a real surprise.

Eventually, those heathens in the ad world hijacked Carly Simon’s lament as a commercial for Heinz ketchup. (See, so much can be blamed on them.) Cat Stevens became Yusuf Islam. (How bad could that date have been?) And, unexpectedly, it actually snowed on Christmas day in New Orleans. (The year of Katrina.)

However, no matter if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saint Lucia Day or Winter Solstice, I send you my best wishes for peace and happiness. May all your dreams come true, even the outrageous ones. But, take it from me, Boy Scouts and Doberman pinschers make terrible actors. Sometimes we must be rational, even during the holidays.