Christmas season is upon us. For many people, Christmas is a time of joy and time with family. For the rest of us, it is a time of stress and frustration because we are not creating a “perfect” Christmas.
For my part, Christmas was never easy after sixth grade. In forth grade, I started playing saxophone. In sixth grade, I started participating heavily in Christmas concerts and similar. In seventh grade, I started participating in the Christmas parade in the town as well. These concerts and parades took up a large amount of time. They were often songs that were different from our fall concert or our spring concert. It required a lot of practice and some frustration. Combine that stress with the inevitable winter break homework projects and the stress of two dysfunctional families trying to blend, and you have just a simmering pot of stress.
My biological father remarried some time between 6th and 12th grade. Every December 25, the jetstream would blow my step-mother off course and she would have to discard her broom for a couple weeks. December 25 was also the anniversary of the date of the spell the necromancer used to summon her to this plane of existence. [In case you didn’t get it, I am referencing her birthday]. My father would flit out of my life for six months at a time, return long enough to criticize my scholastic behavior, my social skills, and my lack of athletic abilities. He would also demand that I respect him because “He was my father”. After these tasks were completed, he would vanish for another 4-6 months. During that time, I usually could not contact him via phone or letters. [This method of parenting is, of course, ideal for building self-esteem in your children]. After one of these flits, he came back from the land of Erinyes with a new soon to be wife. She was tolerable when she and my father were dating, but once they got married, she looked at my siblings and I as if we had excreted all over the kitchen table. Granted, my sisters and I weren’t the greatest people to invite over to a house. We were hormonal teenagers, what was her excuse? Because she needed to replenish her cache of stolen souls, she would always ask for a birthday or Christmas present. Once again, teenagers. We bought presents with money given to us by our mother and stepfather. We did not magically come up with presents. Frequently, she would cast some Eldritch runes and ask us what presents we got for our stepfather (You know, the guy that was in our house every day for years). She would then kick up a fuss about us in the house and every unsatisfactory thing was nit picked. [This method of parenting is, of course, ideal for building self-esteem in your children]. I am sure she was just upset that she didn’t get a Christmas present (or possibly that a house fell on her sister during a tornado). I used to be very bitter about this, and now I just hope someone gives her a nice Christmas present. Perhaps a nice large glass of water in the face or a nice new pointed hat.
My mother and stepfather always wanted a perfect Christmas. Perfect Christmas often required a lot of things. The first thing that was required was a large Christmas tree. The perfect Christmas tree could only be found in the Sequoia National Redwood forest. We would chop down a 400 foot tree and tie it to the top of our minivan. Ok, I may be exaggerating. I am not exaggerating by much, however. We would get a 15-20 foot tree that required me and three of my friends to move all the furniture and stuff it in the back door. We would go to the “chop your own” Christmas tree farm and walk for hours until the sky split and angels sang as they lit up the tree. My stepfather would fire up the chainsaw and we would chop the tree. This was usually a family outing. My friends and I would help lower one of the few relatives of Yggradsil to the ground. My sisters would often sit back and make comments in “valley girl” (Like, oh my gosh, I do not talk like thaaat). I kid, they were usually in the gift store or getting hot cider. My step father, my friends, and I would carry one of Treebeard’s relatives to the checkout. It being an evergreen tree, it would always put up a fight using little stabby things on the bark or by secreting some sort of soap impervious “sap” designed to prevent any movement of fingers or hands in the future. We would get the tree to the house and suffer multiple eye gouges, scrapes and other minor injuries in order to finally get the tree in it’s stand and in the correct location. Invariably, we would have to turn the tree multiple times because of some invisible defect that was showing on the non-wall facing side. Also invariably, the tree would be revolved fully around at least two and usually three times to find the perfect side. Arguments suggesting that the side had already been viewed only fell on deaf and possibly pre-menstrual ears. These arguments could result in complete and utter breakdown of the tenuous peace brought on by plenty of sugared apple cider and seeing their brother (a horrible, stinky boy) work harder than they were. When we finished, we would string the lights up and hang the ornaments. I was left out of the design phase of the ornaments because I felt that the chaos method of hanging ornaments was acceptable. The chaos method of hanging ornaments is where you throw the box of ornaments at the tree and hope that some of them stick.
Of the things that I have done in my adult life to make Christmas better, getting rid of the tree has probably been the best decision. I have no mess, no needles all over the ground, and no continual reminder that I live alone. I actually did not mind the hunt for the perfect Christmas tree when I was a teen. I am just glad to not do it any more.
The second item of the perfect Christmas came from my stepfather. For a man that worked around paper all day, he really loved fire. Every Christmas eve, he would make a fire in the fireplace. That sentence does not truly describe the fire. Hannaniah, Misha’el, and Azariah (a.k.a Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo) would be afraid of this fire. He loved the “Yule fire”. My stepfather would comb through hundreds of logs to find the perfect “yule log”. He would set it aside as if it were ancient treasure. On Christmas eve, he would start making the fire at about 4 p.m. By about 6 p.m., the first match would be lit for the fire. After a while, my parents would sit in front of the fire, probably immobilized by the heat. The rest of us would bring in our clay pots that needed to be hardened and our home blacksmithing kit into the front room. I would stay in the front room until the heat drove me out, usually about 4 minutes. Then I would roll up a pair of pants , put them at the bottom of the door and open my window to try and not die of heat stroke. After the heat from the “yule fire” generated a tornado in Northern California, it could be deemed to be a “good yule fire”.
Since I only had to clear some ashes and split some wood, I don’t really have any negative feelings towards the “Yule conflagration”. It was just a thing we did for a while until we got a different fireplace. My stepfather loved it, and that helped make Christmas perfect.
Christmas morning has some distinct memories. Most of the memories are scent and sound based. Christmas morning is either cinnamon rolls or orange rolls. There was also coffee, Baileys, and whipped cream. We would open presents one at a time. With seven people, this often became a long process. My biological family is unfortunately good at puzzles. We would shake the present and guess the contents. To counter this, we would wrap boxes within boxes. We would put bricks or trash in the present so it would sound like a different gift. This game was not as fun for my stepfather’s family as it was for my biological family. This game actually started before my mom and stepdad married. If you only have one or two gifts, unwrapping multiple boxes makes it feel like you received more presents.
The other tradition that carried over was the whole-in-shell nuts in our stockings. This was a tradition probably because the nuts were cheaper than other treats. Certainly, the nutcrackers we had prior to combining families were only strong enough to wrap gum. I have many Christmas memories of trying to smash whole nuts with a hammer or rock. I still think Brazil nuts are evil to this day.
The last piece of the perfect Christmas was the Christmas dinner. The funny thing about the perfect Christmas dinner is that there is one element that is the same, no matter which venue. There was always a meltdown in the kitchen. This happened at my great-grandmother’s house, at my stepfather’s parent’s house, or in our house. To be honest, the most meltdowns occurred when my biological family were the ones involved. The most frequent problem was that dinner was not out on the table at precisely the time stated prior to cooking started. As an adult, I once tried to cook for 6 people. I almost had a nervous breakdown. This has been called “Disaster Thanksgiving” in my head for years. I understand how cooking for a lot of people can add all sorts of stress. As an adult, I also realized that this stress was entirely imaginary. Instead of a breakdown due to time, I now change the time with the sentence ‘Sorry, cooking took longer than expected”. I remember the Christmas dinners without meltdowns more fondly than the ones with meltdowns. It has been a while since I have had one of these Christmas dinners with a lot of people. Do you know, I can’t remember which dinners were later than expected? I can’t even remember what we had for Christmas dinner except for black olives. If you are cooking for a lot of people this weekend and the stress gets to you, stop and have a break. Stop the meltdown and enjoy the moment. Yes, I know you are all thinking “Shut up kettle”, but it works better than a meltdown.
Christmas dinners were always good. It was always nice to get with friends and family. They are one of the favorite parts of my childhood, even if the salad fork was on the wrong side occasionally.
“Perfect” Christmas? Doesn’t exist. Make a good Christmas. Show the people in your life that you care for them. Don’t show with gifts. Gifts were my biological father’s method of trying to show love. Gifts determined how much we worshiped Kali, the queen of death…er, sorry auto correct…cared for my stepmother, in her eyes. Gifts are nice, but shouldn’t be used to determine worth. It is very easy to fall into that trap. It is tough to be calm around Christmas. Kids haven’t been in school for at least a week. It is winter and cold and wet. No outside play. The urge to lock them in a closet while they are wrapped in duct tape can be overwhelming. Just show your family and friends that you care for them by spending some time with them (or away from them, as the situation requires). Steer away from anger and have another candy cane to create the perfect Christmas.
Have a Merry Christmas.