Perhaps it’s a little early for Christmas stories — but, I’ll take my chances. Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year. I envy those among us with such lack of self-resolve that they are able to pull off those masterful house renovations. You know, the people who decorate every inch of their home with wreaths, chair covers — down to the toilet paper. Their roofs are perfectly strung with lights and their bushes are ever so bright.
I know with very little encouragement, I could be that obnoxious with my merriment. (Everyone can thank my husband for putting the kibosh on those tendencies.) The need to over-exaggerate the holiday festivities goes way back for me. Christmas has always been filled with too many gifts and too much food. I know I’m risking being very politically incorrect talking about excess at Christmas — but, as I said earlier, I’ll take my chances.
For as long as I can remember, Christmas morning has always followed the same routine:
Wait for everyone to arrive,
Invade living room,
Trash living room,
This is a routine that has been repeated every Christmas — for as long as I can remember. The anticipation of the great reveal was so intense, so enormous — my parents living room had a door on either end. The kids would gather at one door while the parents would sneak in through the other door with cameras at the ready. Then the kids door would open and in they would run — eyes wide, mouths gaped open, arms raised in sheer disbelief at the bounty before them — before us. The presents would make a huge circle in front of the tree, so big that we had to creep over the bounty to find a place to sit.
My parents bought their house in 1965. My mother sold it last summer after she was diagnosed with cancer and it had become apparent that she would not be able to live there, alone. This house was the only home I had ever lived in — a fairly strange phenomenon I think. There was rarely a Christmas that we all did not gather there to celebrate — even as we became adults with children of our own. The majority of our Christmases were spent at this house, and all of our Christmases have been spent together. Last Christmas was the first time that Mom and Dad’s house was not ours to celebrate in. But it was ok, we were still together — and Mom was feeling fairly well.
I distinctly remember one rare Christmas that we all had gathered at my grandparents house. My sister and I were probably around six and eight. We had pleaded with our grandparents to let us sleep under the Christmas tree — we had hope beyond imagination that we would catch Santa as he came down the chimney. They agreed and we began our night of trying to stay awake. It didn’t take long before we had both lost our battle and had succumbed to sleep. But, very emphatically, we both woke up at the same time. And then we heard it — a thumping sound on the roof above us. We were both so rattled and excited that we hid our heads under the covers, scared to peek out until eventually, sleep won again. The next morning we awoke to that huge circle of gifts, surrounding us, and a story we could not tell fast enough. We have retold that story of the thumping on the roof for years and I’m not sure if anyone believes us. But, I swear to this day, that is a true story.
My father was the master photographer and videographer. I remember the camera he used to record our Christmases when we were young. I don’t know anything about cameras but I know this one had no sound and we had to watch it with a film projector, on a screen. My father was very particular about who was allowed to run the projector because if it got stuck for too long in any spot, it would melt the film. He had a lighting set-up that most Hollywood studios would envy — he had attached a large string of lights to a post on a stand, and if you looked at them for too long, they could burn a hole right through your retina. One Christmas a few years ago, my father had gathered all the old films of us growing up… first steps, vacations, Christmases. He put all those special memories together for each one of us kids and transferred it to a DVD. It was an incredible gift. And there were the presents, surrounding the Christmas tree, as wide as the room.
But this Christmas, we’re on our own — for the first time in our lives. Just us kids, forced now to be the adults. Hoping to continue those excessive memories for our own children. Hoping to recreate those certain foods that when the smell of them permeate throughout the house, you know its Christmas. Hoping to have so many packages under the tree that no one can walk near it without tripping. Hoping that Santa doesn’t lose his way because we all need the joy.
In a few days, I’ll start pulling out Christmas decorations. Just a few at a time so as not to draw concern from my husband. But, before it’s all over, I hope to have bright lights on the house, Bing Crosby crooning from the CD, “It’s A Wonderful Life” playing on the TV, and a living room filled with more presents than any one tree should be allowed to display. I want to always have the excesses of Christmas.