Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tis the Season

I am really getting in the Christmas spirit this year. Maybe it’s my new Christmas tree. Maybe it’s because my annual reading of Holidays on Ice had me laughing my ass off on the train to myself even more than usual. Maybe it’s my “Let It Snow” Spotify playlist. Maybe it’s from watching Christmas Vacation on a twice-weekly basis and texting quotes to my cousins nonstop.

Whatever it is, I’m going with it.

Yesterday I read this article, “The sentimental, cynical, undying charm of A Christmas Story,” in which the writer makes a lot of wonderful points, not just about that movie, but about the holidays in general. She writes:

"But what happens after that perfect Christmas, when you get the ultimate shiny, exciting thing you asked for, then realize it can’t get better than this? A Christmas Story doesn’t say, but we adults know what happens: The wanting of mere things starts to lose its glittery seasonal appeal. The magic of childhood yuletide fades, and eventually morphs into something else.

There’s a moment in the season-two Christmas episode of The Wonder Years—a TV series that does a much more sentimental version of the narrated-flashback trick from A Christmas Story—when narrator Kevin Arnold describes that transformation as one where the holiday stops “being about tinsel and wrapping paper” and starts “being about memory.” If you believe that’s what happens to Christmas when we grow up, then it makes total sense that narrator Ralphie looks back on the Christmas Story December with such wry wistfulness. It’s because very soon after, possibly the following year, Christmas turned into a time for him to look back, instead of looking forward.

The warm, achingly bright glow of nostalgia is what makes Christmas such an emotional holiday, and it’s also what draws some people to A Christmas Story."

First off, anyone who references The Wonder Years in an article about anything knows exactly what she’s talking about, in my humble opinion. But it’s the part about “the warm, achingly bright glow of nostalgia” that I think is so on point.

My childhood was packed with special Christmas memories. Going to my grandparent’s house on Christmas Eve, with our “Christmas Classics” or “A Very Special Christmas” tapes blaring in the station wagon (later, the Taurus). My brother and I would sing along to Jim Nabors’ “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and Run DMC’s “Christmas Is,” laughing hysterically to ourselves. While at my grandparent’s, we’d all help decorate their tree, one with those absurdly enormous multicolor bulbs and silver tinsel that got everywhere. My grandma would always let me set up the nativity scene on the windowsill, something that filled my child heart with joy and pride. On the way home, we’d usually give my great-grandma, Nannie, a ride home, and Mom would sit in the backseat next to me, a blanket over us as I rested my head on her shoulder and we looked out the car window in awe at all the Christmas lights on the houses.

On Christmas morning, my brother would run to my room to wake me up at an ungodly early hour, where we’d immediately run to the living room and squeal over our newly-filled stockings and presents under the tree. Then we’d run to our parent’s room, where we’d immediately get shot down about them getting up at 5 a.m. to open presents.

So we’d put on the shortest Christmas movie imaginable—typically, How The Grinch Stole Christmas (what is that, like 35 minutes long?)—and then run back again to wake them up. By this point, they’d usually cave, and as they made their coffee, we’d start passing out the presents. Stockings came first, followed by the presents. I always got to start the rotation of unwrapping, because I was the youngest.

Usually after all the presents were unwrapped, you’d find me in the recliner, already reading one of my new books while surrounded by wrapping paper. Next would be a Christmas breakfast, also marking the moment when Dad would inevitably try to play his Three Tenors Christmas album or Mom would try for Gloria Estefan. Afterward, we’d spend the day with my dad’s side of the family, which included two of my favorite Christmas memories with my Grandma Hamm—the year she gave me sugar cookie dough as a gift, and then the infamous year when she gave my younger cousin Claire peanut butter, which Claire promptly started eating with her fingers in the middle of the room, much to the aggravation of my Aunt Linda and the delight of me.

The point is: I was one lucky kid. I don’t have any sad or bad memories of the holidays, just ones like these. The last year my mother was alive, I was 17, a senior in high school. She almost died of a blood infection just a week before Christmas, but by Christmas Day, she was back home, feeling better—or at least putting on a hell of a show for all of us. I actually got sick that year, coming down with a fever on Christmas Eve, and I unwrapped those final presents with my mom in the room with a cold washcloth on my forehead, burning up with fever. But it didn’t matter: she was there. We were all together. It was a gift.

The holidays were the hardest after she was gone. They’re still hard. But we’ve had a lot of time for new traditions, and new family members to celebrate with, like my dad’s girlfriend, Debbie, who insisted I needed a Christmas tree for my apartment and knew just how much I would love to have some of my mom’s old ornaments. We have my one-year-old niece Polly, who could make even the coldest Grinch smile when she winks one of her gorgeous brown eyes, one of her new tricks. (I can only assume she'll be reading Dickens by her 3rd Christmas.)

So yes, I get a little emotional at the holidays, like when I burst into tears when I found the snowman ornament, the last ornament I ever picked out with my mom. I miss her terribly at this time of year. But I also know that I will always have those memories with family, and more to create with family and friends. Nothing can take away the memory of leaning my head on my mother’s shoulder, and staring at the holiday lights with delight.

Happy holidays to you all, and I hope, if there’s anyone special you’re missing this season, you have great memories to cherish, knowing that no matter how much time passes, those will always remain.

Now let’s drink some eggnog and make merry! It's getting too real around here.

And don’t forget:

“And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse!”

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