I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
— Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Every year there seem to be some lingering decorations to put away long after the holidays have passed. Maybe that’s why it feels like Christmas is either coming or going. After all, there are only 293 shopping days left.
Every year as I dug through the gifts and candy in the red felt sock that hung from my bedroom doorknob, I hoped against hope that the last gift I hauled out of that thing was not going to be an orange. I could see the orb-shaped something filling out the toe of the sock. Pulling out the little cellophane-wrapped sweets that had dropped to the bottom, my nails must have scraped the bumpy texture of the peel. The fresh citrusy smell must have wafted past my nostrils. But I held out hope that it was a ball, or a pair of really pretty mittens, or anything . . . but an orange. Yet, every year it was an orange. Either Santa had a messed-up sense of humor, or he was just a big dick dressed in red.
Santa left my other gifts unwrapped under the tree. That worked, because my next oldest sibling was ten years older than me, and by that time, was most likely helping to perpetuate the storyline. So any unwrapped gifts under the tree were From: Santa; To: me.
Like any kid, sometimes Santa brought exactly what I wanted, and some years he hadn’t a clue. The year I got my pixie haircut, he brought me a long, blonde wig. It was exactly what I wanted, and I tossed my head like the girls in the Prell commercials swinging it sensuously in slow motion.
The year he brought me a fire engine pedal-car, he lost some of his magic status. The box featured pictures of all the models, and my parents asked me which one I wanted to be in the box. I imagined it was a magical box that would change whatever was inside to be exactly the model you wished for. I wished hard and pointed to the Tee Bird, but what they pulled out of the box was a fire engine, complete with a bell on the front for announcing emergencies. The toy was my first encounter with independence because back then little kids just pedaled around blocks unchaperoned for hours at a time. So that was cool, but I knew somewhere there was a little kid who pointed at the fire engine and got the blue Tee Bird. That was my second clue that Santa wasn’t all he was cracked up to be.
Eventually I learned the harsh truth that my parents were just filling in while Santa sat at the North Pole consuming dubious amounts of cookies and Amaretto. I couldn’t believe it was them putting that damned orange in the bottom of my sock all along. And while it might have been forgivable for Santa to make that mistake — after all, he had millions of socks to fill — I could not say the same for my parents. They had only one job that night, to place a few unwrapped gifts around the tree and fill my sock with toys and candy, saving the obvious best gift for the bottom of the sock.
I don’t mean to say that I harbored ill feelings over the faux pas of my parents. Christmas was and is still something I hold dear and find magical. I wish joy and peace to all in the new year, and in the grand scheme of things, I think I’ve turned out alright.
But for the life of me, every time I see a big, round, juicy orange at this time of year, I remember the disappointment of finding one in the toe of my sock on Christmas morn.
And I am reminded of what a sick jerk Santa really can be.
Today is Christmas Day, the day most of you are observing the coming of little baby Jesus, born of an immaculate conception in a lowly manger in the middle of nowhere. I, conversely, am celebrating the triumph of another holiday conquered, the likes of which I have never experienced nor care to again.
What follows is a tactical guide — a collection of intellect, wisdom, instinct and sheer luck for the ill-prepared.
These holiday things come every year, based on traditions your ancestors established decades ago. How hard can it be?
Very hard. Your ancestors were not trying to update their Facebook status, remember the password to their health provider network, or search Jell-O recipes on Pinterest. Their kids weren’t juggling three jobs, and they weren’t considering radiation therapy for their dog. Their traditions evolved while dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh was still a thing.
Unless your job is lawn-mowing, your career does not shut down in December. Plan for the worst. I shouldn’t have expected to accept a new position, work nine to ten hours a day, attend two holiday potlucks, one all-staff meeting, a congratulatory lunch, and a two-day regional meeting all while training in my replacement, but that’s what happened.
The whole year sort of went like that. Time off has been hard to work in. Rather than lose it with the close of 2014, I practically accepted my new position and asked for three days off all in the same breath. I don’t recommend that.
We all react to holidays differently. Most of us want to feel some sort of control over it. Unfortunately, the minute you join your life with someone else’s, you have to relinquish some of that control through compromise.
Overheard at my house:
“Do you use scissors to cut this wrapping paper, or just chew it with your bare teeth?”
Expectations run rampant at Christmas, and it is important to talk about what each person expects. I suggest alcohol, or at the very least, chocolate. No one is right or wrong. Unmet expectations lead to disappointment and resentment. What is each person’s deal-breaker for the holiday? Where can you go with the flow? If there are contradicting deal-breakers, work that out first.
The best advice has already been given by those much smarter than I. Don’t go into debt over Christmas gifts. Anyone who would wish you to do so, isn’t worth the price of wrapping paper.
So the second-best advice I can give is to remember to pay your bills. I have every excuse in the book. I was working extra-long hours, they got lost under the clutter, I thought I had paid them . . . by the way, none of these will get you out of paying that pesky little late fee. Grrr….
December is not a good time to begin a remodeling project. Especially one that leaves your bathroom completely out-of-order. Instead of hanging up lights and tinsel, I was wiping up dust and chunks of sheet rock. I finally gave in and bought a faux tree, just because I couldn’t bear the thought of trying to keep one more thing alive .
My holiday shopping has been equal parts gifts and food, and shower fixtures and tile. My head hurt, and my wallet was smoking.
Luckily, I have another bathroom. The guests were not confined to peeing outside with the dog. But more than once I asked myself,
“What was I thinking?”
The more people you have in your life, the more complicated this all becomes. Not only do you each bring a variety of expectations, but everyone has their own set of day-to-day obstacles like work, school, significant others and finances to worry about. And the more these people mean to you, the more their worries affect you, too.
The day my daughter texted that someone stole her wallet, I had a full-on hot flash even before I read the next text that said,
“Oh wow I just found it.”
Stress leaves us open to the heartbreak of those we love, rather than a foundation they can lean on.
Bubba’s family lives in northwest Minnesota. No. Really. When I say northwest I mean THE northwest corner of the northwest county.
If you are traveling before the holidays, make sure you budget that into your preparation time. Especially if you will be in the middle of nowhere with no access to malls, grocery stores or even the internet. Lacking these resources when you are painfully low on days-til-Christmas and locked in a car with a significant other, his son, and a dog is a dangerous experiment.
Remember that your pets can feel your anxiety. Poor little Sabbath was lacking her regular walks, listening to the demolition of the bathroom while she was otherwise alone in the house, watching me run around like a crazed woman, and confused about the decorations and gifts.
She opened a gift of olive oil from under the tree, chewed off the lid, and spilled it on the carpet. Up until then, I was very patient with her. But at that point, it was T minus 3 hours till guests arrived . . . and me running the steam cleaner, of all things.
To top it off, the weather has been so warm that the back yard melted. One hour after the oil incident, she came in full of mud. The kitchen now needed mopping and the dog needed a bath.
Make sure you are holding on to traditions because they suit your family, and not simply performing them because that is how they have always been done. If someone has passed, or a family has split, it may be the right time to change a ritual, or it may be the perfect time to hold it dear.
I make Butter Currant Tarts every year because the recipe was brought to the United States by my Canadian grandmother. I make them in remembrance of her, although my youngest daughter says it’s because I’m doing weird stuff that old people do like making things that nobody likes. (For the record, my older son downed about half the batch in one sitting.)
I put lights on the shrubs and leave them lit as long as Bubba can stand it, Valentine’s Day if possible. They cheer me up in the middle of the dark, bitterly cold Minnesota winter.
Exchanging gifts is one of my favorite traditions of the holiday. I see the joy of giving in the eyes of my adult children, and it pleases me greatly.
In the aftermath, my feet and back ache. The house is a mess. Muffin tins and fondue pots wait to be put away. I ask myself if it was all worth it. A light snow has started to drift down from the grey sky. The furnace breathes and the dog shifts.
Christmas is a season when our family spends time thinking of each other. We contemplate what each person enjoys, what they need, or what growth we want to inspire. We support them, feed them, pour them a drink, and we delight in their happiness. I can’t think of anything else as worthy in the world.
Thanksgiving did not happen at our house. There was no turkey, no mashed potatoes, and no pumpkin pie. I spent the day being very thankful there was no cleaning or dirty dishes.
Instead we opted for a new holiday.
According to Wikipedia, Black Thursday is a term used to refer to events which occurred on a Thursday. It has been used in the following cases. (I am paraphrasing here for your convenience. There is no test at the end):
And yes, thanks to the materialization of Christmas, it is also the Thursday before Black Friday, known to the civilized population of the United States as Thanksgiving.
One can glean a couple points from this list.
Really bad things happen on Thursdays.
The Retail Black Thursday is bad enough to make this list.
Black Thursday is a fairly new occurrence. It is a spin-off of Black Friday. Spin-offs are born from something people just can’t get enough of. If you can’t get enough Happy Days, they make Laverne and Shirley. If you can’t get enough Black Friday, they make Black Thursday.
We were naive little babies scouring the newspaper ads on Thanksgiving morn. “See the pretty t.v.s? Look at those nice prices! Ooh! To which store shall we go?”
We decided on Kmart. The first 40 minutes of Black Thursday were celebrated in a line, about 50 yards from the front door. Minnesota had stirred up a real blizzard and possibly a little holiday spirit. As with any classic holiday story, several things were learned:
If you are smart you will line up behind a lady with a spring-loaded hair clip. Snow can pile up in a good 3-inch drift on one of those suckers. Watching it can help pass time and distract you from the pain of icy extremities.
Scope out your locations carefully. Some are more likely to offer a good fist fight. The worst we found was some guy with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth telling other people “Shut up. Do I look like I’m budging in line? Shut up!” If we couldn’t get a t.v., I was at least hoping for a YouTube submission. Didn’t happen.
If you’re going to wag your finger at someone across an electronics counter, have the common decency to yell a bit. Some of us want a YouTube video.
Kmart doesn’t care if they don’t have what you saw in the flyer. They know you will leave some money behind. I didn’t brave the arctic for 40 minutes to walk out empty handed. And that was when I found the greatest deal ever on boxes of Hershey’s Pot of Gold chocolates. I spent just over $7 on chocolates that Thursday night. That is $7 more than I have spent there in the last three years totaled.
Many friends can be made standing in a northeaster for 40 minutes. Your friendship will end the minute you reach out for the t.v. they had their eye on.
Show up at least three hours in advance with your Thermos, sleeping bag and folding sports chair. Otherwise, you might as well hop into your warm bed and wait until morning after the plows have come through.
Black Thursday will probably not be celebrated in our house next year. I’ve learned there isn’t anything for sale on Thanksgiving that I need more than what I have at home already. As Marcie told Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, “Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that’s what they mean by ‘Thanksgiving,’ Charlie Brown.”
We drove off that night together laughing in spite of ourselves . . .
That feeling when the high-diver misses his mark, his body rotating juuuust a fraction of a degree too far, and his body contacts the surface of the water with an audible slap . . . you lean forward, willing him to surface . . . not daring to breathe . . . and he POPS out of the water with a wave, gifting you with a sigh of relief . . .
This is how I know you must feel upon seeing my post! I am here waving and telling you I have emerged from:
Black Thursday (known to some as Thanksgiving), Black Friday, Cyber Monday
The germ-laden shopping crowds
The near-loss of my to-do list
Burning my left hand on the turkey roaster
Multiple high-fructose corn syrup crashes
Blunt trauma to the instep
Over-consumption of animal secretions
*If that isn’t enough, we remodeled the basement family room. It wasn’t a huge renovation, but in involved paint, entertainment-center cables, and the blending of his and her decor.
I’d like to spend the next few posts elaborating on these points, gradually ascending the ladder to the bloggers 30-meter platform. For now . . . APPLAUD! . . . I have broken the surface of my watery peril. Waving, I smile, ready to dive in again.
*No animals were harmed in the making of this holiday.