A cat’s-eye view for Christmas

Published 6:01 pm Monday, December 18, 2017

By Julie Maruskin, Clark County Public Library 

For most of us North Americans the winter holidays are celebrated with many smaller rituals leading up to a big one.

The trappings of these holidays include at least one elaborate dinner, dozens of perfectly-wrapped presents, a lavishly decorated tree, and lots and lots of strange seasonal objects hauled out of storage and arranged artfully as mandated by  the editors of any magazine with the word “Living” in the title.

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It’s a lot of work, and many members of species Homo sapiens feel that the effort is necessary and somehow ultimately worth it. Other species, however, see these preparations in a different light.

Let me explain. When I met my husband, he had a dog and no cats, so I assumed (naturally and incorrectly) that he was a dog person and not a cat person. 

There is a difference.

A dog person sees the world in the same way as his loyal, somewhat dense companion. If it smells good, it IS good. If you expect me to do something, it IS good, and I will do it even if I must lay down my life in the process. Cold water always tastes good on a hot day, even if I am drinking out of the bathroom porcelain.

Dogs are earthy, predictable, dependable, single-minded, and delighted by mess and commotion.

Cats are none of these, combining the sensuality of Mae West, the cynicism of Dorothy Parker, and the reflexes of a psychotic ninja.

As it turned out, my husband is a cat person and now I live with five cats. Since then, I, a dog person, have had the opportunity to observe the holidays from a cat’s-eye view. I have recorded these observations in haiku, a poetic form particularly well-suited to the cat’s nature, according to the 18th-century haiku master and cat-lover Issa. An example:

Who are these people?

Their coats are on my bed. I will have my revenge.

Seasonal decorations and wrappings are suspect to the sensibilities of the cat, not unlike the occasional small invertebrate that wanders into the cat’s territory. These invaders must be dispatched and sometimes eaten as necessary to return the household to order.

Ribbon writhing

In a sea of wrapping paper.

Now I must kill it.

That red ornament

Insolently glittering.

I must kill it now.

That musical star

On the tree irritates me.

It must be destroyed.

In fact, the Christmas tree is, to a cat, a source all at once of suspicion, unholy delight, and undeniable proof that human beings entertain ridiculous ideas. Why would anyone chop down a tree, prop it up inside, spread a highly decorated and otherwise useless cloth around its stump and then cover the whole shebang with strange inanimate objects?

The cat feels that it must return the tree to its natural state after it has been desecrated in this way.

If you did not want

a hairball on the tree skirt, you should have said so.

These little bulbs do not make the satisfying crash the big ones did.

Who knocked down the tree?

The cat? But I was sleeping.

You are paranoid.

In fact, any type of panorama painstakingly set up by a Christmas-happy householder is an affront and an invitation to a cat. Consider this trilogy:

I do not like your manger scene. This year I will  eat all the wise men.

Also, I will bite  the angel’s head off. I will  not hear you screaming.

You do not want to know what I have planned for the camel and the sheep.

And then there are the parties. We scrub; we decorate; we consult recipes old and new. We labor and sweat. We strain to exceed the success of last year’s party. To the cat this is ridiculous and unnecessary. It is the nature of food to be eaten, not to be decorative.

The smoked salmon has disappeared? This is why my breath smells expensive.

I am sleeping on this warm Christmas platter. I did not want your opinion.

This was your turkey?

I think not. I did not see your name carved on it.

Finally, the very idea of putting an object in a box, covering it with brightly colored paper, tape, more paper, and ribbon tortured into a bow,  only to have someone else tear this construction to shreds is anathema to the cat. Often they are moved to comment on this folly.

Who peed on this gift you wrapped? It was a tacky present anyway.

This year, try to experience the holidays as a cat might.

Go for a walk in the early evening and watch for strange and wonderful stars. Listen to the wind rustling through dry leaves. Imagine enchanted beings moving through the envelope of twilight. Feel snow beginning to gather in the air.

Just before dark, stroll back to the house for some dinner, telling no one where you’ve been.  Then settle into the sofa with a companion, making sure to tuck your feet up. Gaze mystically into the distance. You will feel content. Your eyes will close and you will feel smug, very smug, when you realize that it is all the inexplicable small things that wind their magic around the winter holidays.

But before you do — make sure the cat is out.

About Whitney Leggett

Whitney Leggett is managing editor of The Winchester Sun and Winchester Living magazine. To contact her, email whitney.leggett@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0049.

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