Dec. 24th, 2008

badatapologies: (home sweet home)
Christmas Eve. This used to be the big event for my family, which is to say my mom's side of the family, which was all the family I ever had for at least half my life. We always got together and opened gifts and had our big Christmas dinner and celebrated on Christmas eve, so much so that when I found out most people didn't open their presents until Christmas morning it seemed strange and bizarre and I didn't believe it. Opening presents in daylight? In the morning? How can you enjoy the tree and the Christmas lights in daytime? How can you have Christmas dinner at 10am? Doesn't make any damn sense. Oh, sure, on Christmas morning Santa (aka my Grandma) would have brought me maybe one surprise item, or some chocolates or a satsuma in my stocking, but nothing major. It was just a little bonus stuff. Later I came to understand that for most people it was exactly the reverse--maybe, maybe they'd get one gift on Christmas eve. When I was in my teens I reconnected with my dad's side of the family, and the wisdom of our Christmas eve family gathering became apparent to me. It freed everyone up to go spend Christmas day with another branch of their family. With all those broken homes and in-laws and whatnot, it was almost a necessity. I've had a lot of Christmas day events in the past 20-plus years, but none of them were ever as sweet, or felt more like Christmas, than those Christmas Eves in the trailer with my Grandma and the family.

How are you supposed to sleep with all those unopened presents? It makes no sense! Bah.

I was, and this should not surprise you at all, the Christmas Elf. Starting when I was about 7, every year on Thanksgiving night I'd wait until my grandma was fast asleep and put up all the decorations myself, haul the little artificial tree out of the shed, stay up til 3am trying every bulb in every string until I'd assembled one string of lights that worked. For you youngsters, in the olden days when one Christmas light would burn out, the whole string would stop working. This was to make you go buy new lights every year, but we outsmarted them by never having enough money to replace the lights, so I had to do some electrical engineering. The resulting fires were minimal and easily extinguished.

I suppose it does weird things to you when you're saddled with adult responsibilities (or adult indifference) at that age. I did most of the family Christmas shopping in the discount bins at the Revco or Ben Franklin, decorated the trailer inside and out, bought and signed and stamped and mailed the Christmas cards, sometimes even bought my own gifts, but I still believed in Christmas and Santa and all the magical things youngsters believe in. I used to obsess over how Santa would get in, since we didn't have a chimney. In fact sometimes I suspected that's why he didn't stop. But on the night of the 24th, every alley cat running across the roof of the trailer was a right jolly old elf and his eight tiny reindeer. Eight tiny meowing in-heat reindeer. I believed against all sense, against that nagging voice in the back of my head that says "no, you know, there's no Santa, there's no magic, you're it, it's just you." Same sort of voice that comes up when one's desperate nightly prayers to God are returned Attempted Not Known. Sometimes you need things to be true even when you know they're not.

In the intervening years I did my best to keep Christmas going, and in so doing, try and keep the family together, so that we'd see each other at least one day a year. But my grandmas died a couple of years back, and my young nephew died this year, which devastated everyone, and now the family's just fallen apart. My sister moved to South Dakota, and the rest of us--well. My mom pretty much canceled Christmas, though we're all getting together for some kind of a dinner tonight, at my aunt and uncle's place. I was admonished that there would be no gifts or merriment allowed, but needless to say I'd already got them all a few very modest items so they will have to like it or lump it. I doubt Cost Plus will take back the pretzels. But I get the feeling this may be the last time we all--well, what's left of us--get together for Christmas.

These things happen. Life is brief. You have to cherish the times you get. Etc. I'll be mumbling those mantras to myself later today. And there'll be Christmas with friends, with my sweetie, with my dad's side of the family, and lots of good things. Families of choice. Unwitting members of my karass. What-have-you. I'm grateful for all of it.

And I'm grateful for you, too, dear friends. Since I probably won't have another opportunity to say this, have a happy Christmas. In the words of Lou Reed, "Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or whatever it is you do--happiness, through the years, to you."

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August 2009

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