LAST CHRISTMAS, I discovered notting and applied it with spectacular improvement in my enjoyment of the season.
Notting is not doing something. Anything less than the orgy of self-indulgence with which I once associated Christmas qualifies as satisfactory notting. To one who had never denied himself anything his little heart desired until he entered AA, the joys of notting were refreshing experience indeed.
Not drinking, of course, was my first, involuntary try at notting. With not drinking, there was no more tipping over the tree, showing up late on Christmas Eve, or drowning out the merry carols with my constructive analysis of my wife’s character defects.
Not drinking made Christmas so much better that I thought I would see if other forms of notting would improve the season even more. Not carding, for example, or not caroling, or not treeing, or maybe even not gifting.
There are wonderful collateral nots that go along with the above primary nots. Not shopping, not tree-decorating, not line-standing, not mailing, and not griping about all the foregoing activities.
And if these nots work out successfully, there are marvelous other nots for later–like not wreathing, not candling, not ho-hoing, not potato-chip-dipping, or not Yule-logging.
So, in a spirit of pioneer enthusiasm, I proposed notting last Christmas as a way of life to my family. Less-is-more was my cry; deny ourselves increase the joy of Christmas!
Not carding was a moderate success. My bride enthusiastically concurred in the ruthless purge from our Christmas-card list of my relatives, former business associates, the college chum with the really deluxe girl friend, and all my former drinking buddies. She balked at the elimination of her relatives, former neighbors, and bridge buddies.
Not caroling, on the other hand, met with the unqualified endorsement of family, friends, and neighbors; it was specified that it was my caroling, not anyone else’s, that was to be notted. My not caroling was considered a positive contribution to the spirit of Christmas and the promotion of world peace.
Not treeing fell into the area of “things I cannot change” and therefore had to be borne with good grace. I tried not-so-big not treeing.
“How about one of those cute little table models rather than half a forest in our living room?” I asked. No dice.
So I tackled not gifting. “Look, we’re all grown-ups now. Santa Claus doesn’t come down the chimney with the gifts, and the spirit of Christmas could be well served by the symbolic exchange of one small gift each in recognition of the gifts of the Magi to the Christ child and in observation of our love for each other,” I orated.
But again, the usual mound of gifts mysteriously grew under the tree like leaf droppings, as each family member made sure he or she was not caught short giving less than the presents received.
With these partial victories, I retired from the fray. I have not notted all year, since one cannot not all the time. But it was not for notting alone that I notted; it was to help put Christmas in perspective for the whole family.
It is one of the ironies of Christmas that, to me, it is a redundancy; if I try to practice the AA way of life, Christmas becomes a repetition on a smaller scale of what I have been trying to do all year–extend love to others. In fact, the observation of Christmas even was accompanied by twinges of guilt (here I go again), because I had drawn my circle of love inward rather than expand it outward, as I try to do night after night in AA meetings.
But notting, in its way, declared my independence of the superficialities of Christmas, and that does not necessarily mean abandoning them. By notting, even unsuccessfully, I have looked at the rituals surrounding Christmas and have seen them for what they actually are. And then I have kept some of them, because they have been around me for so long and I have grown fond of them.
That helps to keep Christmas in focus and, above all, simple. Making it simple and keeping it simple are the only ways I seem to learn anything.