The obligatory Christmas episode
Every TV show has one, every holiday season. I usually hate them because of the trite sentiments. It's the stories that focus more on the humor the holiday can bring about or family relationships that are interesting.
The other day, I helped some friends decorate their Christmas tree and it made me feel weirdly sentimental. Perhaps it's due to the fact that this year I had a very untraditional Chanukah and am not going home for Christmas. It got me to reflect on my past Christmases and the family traditions spawned by the holiday.
It would start the week after Thanksgiving. My father would climb up in the attic crawl space, dragging out the massive amounts of ornaments, lights and so forth. He had a knack for picking out the thickest, tallest trees. Christmas is his all time favorite holiday so everything always had to be perfect. This caused a rift between him and my mother and me. He would beg for help decorating the tree.
We would try to hang an ornament and he would lash out, "Hell no! Don't put it there!" We would then move the ornament and he would keep on shouting until he was red in the face. "Goddamnit! Just let me do it! Just stand there holding the fucking ornament!" After enduring the abuse for a couple of holidays, my mother and I told him we were officially done decorating the tree with him– indefinitely. He tried to guilt us into helping out but we never fell for it again. He hired an old alcoholic man to help him decorate the tree from then on. It worked out because he would get drunk and not care about how mean my dad was being.
With a perfectly decorated tree, wreaths on the door and red ribbons on the columns of the house, it looked like a Christmas card.
I would celebrate "first Christmas" with my mother's parents. It was very meager, as they did not have much. It wasn't until my grandfather passed away that I was told that I was Jewish and that my grandfather was not my actual grandfather. My mothers parents were both Jewish. When my actual grandfather died, my grandmother married the man I knew. He did not allow her to practice Judaism. Once he was gone like clockwork, my grandmother got rid of all the Christmas decorations and began celebrating Chanukah. Chanukahs were always very awkward because my mother was not raised Jewish and did not really want to partake in the new traditions. I was ambivalent about dreidel spinning and my grandmother's burnt potato pancakes.
Christmases were spent mainly with my father's family. My great grandmother, grandmother and aunt would come to our house to open presents and eat lunch. The festivities would go on from 8:00 am until sunset. I would wake up around 6:00 am and be amped to start opening gifts but was not allowed downstairs until my father set up the video camera. This was in the early 80s and technology certainly wasn't what it is today. It took what seemed like ages for him to get the camera just right. When all was ready, I was allowed to come into the room where all my family was waiting for me with bloody marys so strong I could smell the alcohol from the doorway. My father would force me to make a really big show about opening my presents, which I despised. He would order me to smile for the camera for thirty minutes while I stared back at him darkly.
Presents were plentiful, very expensive and exactly what I wanted except for my grandmother, Mimi. Mimi gave many gifts- at least twenty per person- but they were all mail order crap. She'd save up labels from her cigarette cartons and mail away for windbreakers, pedometers and cheap radios. One year I bet my father we'd all get chia pets and he naively thought we wouldn't. He lost $5 on that one.
I figured out that the Santa Claus thing was a ruse when I was pretty young. The chimney went right through my room and I never heard any noises. The story just didn't add up. I had extreme doubts. Then one year I heard my dad grumbling to himself while he was assembling one of my presents. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, my parents as well as other kids my age maintained that Santa was real. It wasn't until one year at Chanukah that my grandmother referred to the Santa myth as "a load of bullshit". She couldn't understand why Christians would lie to their kids about some mythical figure giving out presents. She believed that kids should know exactly where their gifts came from: their family. After her outburst, my parents came clean.
I've spent almost every Christmas at home with my parents. The gifts have drastically changed from toys and clothes to envelopes of money. My great grandmother nor either of my grandmothers are with us any longer. In lieu of cooking, we go to one of several buffets around town. We open whatever there is to open and we all three go on our separate ways: my dad to watch football, my mother to plow through the latest murder mystery and me to do whatever it is I do.
This is the first year that I will not see them. They sent my presents and my jaded mind thought, "Good. I get all the stuff without having to see them." So why do I feel like something is missing? I'm not going to go on the whole importance of family spiel because I don't really believe it. I don't necessarily miss them so much as I miss the death of a tradition. It's died slowly over the years with family members passing away and me growing up. It will be as if Christmas won't come this year because I don't go shopping, I don't decorate and I deliberately avoid places where holiday music will be playing. My only reminders will be the obligatory Christmas episodes of my television shows and that everything will be closed Saturday.
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Dec 22 2010, 7:40 PMJeff Hammel responded:It sounds like you got maybe even more of the "holiday spirit" (in all the bad sense of the term). I understand why you're sentimental of it, even though I'm not. You're welcome to spend Christmas with me if you'd like to share the old silly traditions (the good ones, anyway)