We’re in the Pacific Northwest for Christmas, staying at Ed’s parents’ house. My folks live about ten minutes away and as our good friends have lent us their car until early next week when we get a rental, we’ve been spending pretty much equal time at both. We are lucky to be able to be with the family for the holidays. I won’t say we’re happy about it, because, 1) Ed’s ass would twitch, and 2) happy is too simple an emotion to express what it feels like to be with family over the holidays. I think that it’s closer to say that we are feeling a kind of euphoria/stress current dramatic syndrome.
Case in point: I just left my mom’s house to drop off our presents and pick up our Christmas Eve presents (pajamas). Jack & I left a bit early because my sister’s youngest child, Daisy, was throwing a fit. Apparently she didn’t want to get out of the bath. She sat up at the top of the stairs, flaying, kicking, crying, and basically being her two-year-old obstinate self. Jack was getting both tired and concerned, so we kissed those in the house not throwing a tantrum and came back to Ed’s folks. Daisy normally saves her tantrums for bedtime, but like all of us it seems, she’s can be set off at a moment’s notice.
For some reason, everyone seems to be on the edge of some kind of emotional tears. I have a hunch that it isn’t just us, but a lot of folks. Is it American? Is it cultural? Are there others fighting the urge to punch their pillow a bit before falling asleep a night? Or, are there those families out there who are calm, grateful, and openly affectionate at Christmastime? If so, what’s your secret?
Christmas Eve morning, Ed went out to buy buns for his family’s Christmas Eve ham sandwich tradition. He had bought the wrong buns (too small, no Kaisers) – and was on the defensive about it. Normally, he would roll (Ha!) back to the store, buy the “right” buns and be done with it. This morning, he got a bit fired up, huffed around and got somewhat excited. That same day, Before giving her girls their bath, my sister, April, sat down on the couch and fought tears. She said she was overwhelmed about everything that had to get done today (Christmas Eve), but then she said she wished that there was no Christmas. Her husband is just about to head home after a year serving in Iraq, and despite the thrill of having her family back together, it is still the first Christmas that her family won’t be together.
I think what April is going through gets at the paradox of the holiday season. We’re bombarded with all of these conflicting emotions: we’re expected to be grateful for all the intangible stuff: love, health, security at the same time we’re bombarded with this idea that we have to buy stuff to bring happiness to others. In other words, the very spirit of Christmas – or what Christmas should be – highlights what it often isn’t. So, here we are, raised to expect tangible gifts under the tree and with them, the intangible sense contentment and love. Let me tell you, those kind of expectations never bring peace to anyone. Somewhere along the way, all of the tangible and intangible gifts get confused and we can’t tell what will make Christmas be like what we want it to be. And, the kinds of gifts we tend to want as adults are the most complicated gifts of all- and somehow the promise of gifts under the tree just gums all of those expectations up. And, because the culture of Christmas – on television, in the news, in movies, in all the books, promises that you will indeed get what you want or need, we get our hopes up. Dangerous? A bit.
I wonder, though, if families, particularly those that live far away from one another, would take the time to think about what they want- as individuals and as a family if we didn’t have the holidays to remind us. I guess some of us do some times. And, that’s really the miracle of Christmas: the ability to be honest about what you want and even if you won’t get it, to know that those around you hear you. You know? Now, that would be something.
All said, we had a lovely Christmas, really. Like every year, we'll go back to our daily lives and remember all the joys of the season: how great it was to watch Jack thrive around so many people who love him, to remember where we came from and the people and places that helped to mold who we are today. We probably won't remember the shadowy side of Christmas: the tension, unspoken expectations, or emotional exhaustion until next year around December 20th. Maybe Christmas is so meaningful because we live through the tension. Without it, the holiday would just be another day.
Happy Holidays, everyone.