When I was growing up, no one was as into Christmas as I was.
As a small kid on Christmas Eve, there was never much of an event. We would get Santa some cookies, throw a carrot or two into the yard for the reindeer, and get ready for bed. Besides the usual "shut off the lights and settle down", I would also get, "if you don't stop playing around in your room and shut up, Santa is going to skip this house!" thrown at me every few minutes.
When I got a little older and knew that Santa's workshop was actually K-Mart and that the presents were kept in my parents' closet, my mother used to use Christmas Eve to meet up with her friends and get plastered, and my father and I would quietly and uneventfully watch TV until I decided that rastlin' wasn't very Christmas-y and I'd just go to bed. Most of those nights, I would lay in bed having panic attacks believing that my mom would not bother to come home that night and Christmas would be ruined.
Back then, my mother would be hungover in the morning and so she would refuse to get out of bed early, and my brother (who is 10 years older than me) and I would just sit there bored out of our minds staring at the tree, waiting for something to happen. When my mother finally DID get up, she would amble about for a while and miserably sip a Pepsi while we opened our stuff. I can't say that I was often disappointed back then. My parents were always broke and yet somehow always managed to pull out all the stops for Christmas. My mother (as you may know from my posts about her) has this belief that kids should have the things they want and that to disappoint them in any way is to scar them for life. I am no psychiatrist, but I think my mother tried to show her love with presents.
Later in the day, my mother would start preparing for dinner. We were not a family who believed that holiday dinners need to be eaten at 2:00, because that's much closer to lunch time (you idiots!), so the preparation wouldn't begin until halfway through the day. We could expect to see one or two uncles, an aunt and a couple of cousins, along with my grandmother who lived down the block. Grandma Virgie was in her 60's and a chain smoker, which was odd because for as long as I could remember she traveled everywhere hooked to an oxygen tank because of the Emphysema that she had from chain smoking. Virgie was also a drunk.
When I was a kid, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" was not just a stupid song that made us laugh. IT WAS A WARNING. Grandma Virgie would simply stagger home drunk in the snow after dinner. Looking back, it seems really irresponsible for anyone to have let her stumble around outside alone in the cold and dark but I guess those were different times.
Inevitably during dinner, one uncle would get too drunk, start a fight with someone or everyone, and the police would have to be called. This happened every holiday that I can remember until I was at least 9 years old, when my grandmother passed away (oddly, NOT from emphysema) and we stopped getting together on the holidays at all and it became all the more depressing.
Through my teenage years and into my twenties, it would just be me, my parents and one lone drunk uncle (it varied - I have a couple) on holidays. There was nothing magical or sentimental and it really wasn't much different than any other dinner at home except for the total freak out my mother would do at feeling obligated to cook when she just wanted to be left alone. Back then, my mother suffered from depression and my brother had moved away to Florida (probably JUST to avoid having to be home for the holidays). In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I would listen to those fucking Christmas songs and the mental pictures of sitting around a roaring fire with all your friends laughing and drinking eggnog and no one calling anyone else a motherfucker or cunt and everyone being cheerful and giving wonderful gifts that they selected regardless of cost and out of pure love and respect made me truly HATE the holidays. So I took a job where EVERYONE hates Christmas. At the mall.
When I moved to Arizona, I loved not having to deal with the family at the holidays. However, I never could get used to eating Christmas dinner on the patio next to the pool. I continued to work in retail and the only reason it ever seemed like December was because work would suddenly get extremely stressful and I would threaten to quit more often. For me, it never seemed like it was really Christmas at all, except when one of those fucking songs would ambush me while I was at the grocery store and all those feelings of wanting the perfect Christmas would well up inside me and make me feel like punching something.
I always assumed that once I had kids or stopped working in retail I would be able to put the past aside and start to actually "feel the Christmas spirit". But it still eludes me. The last couple of years, Lila was too young to really anticipate the holiday and she really didn't care either way what was going on. This year, I got so stressed out about not having money that I ruined it for myself. I still want to give gifts that show some level of appropriate thought and emotion and I still want to feel like there is some kind of magic. But I couldn't afford the gifts and the magic is tough to conjure when you're poor.
Lila was excited about the whole thing, but halfway through opening her presents found herself bored with it, wanting instead to go play with the Wii or take pictures with our camera. This infuriated me more than I can tell you because (like an idiot) I overspent because I wanted her to see lots of boxes wrapped up under the tree. So I bought her a lot of little things and apparently, what I gave her in quantity was lacking in quality. For me, the lesson is that I was acting like my mother and not being the kind of parent that I want to be. I don't want a kid who expects tons of shit for Christmas! I want a kid who is willing to think of others and perhaps give some of her toys to kids that don't have any. All I did this year was miss the mark.
As for Christmas Eve...I wanted to have a celebration where the whole family comes over and we eat and talk and sing and watch Christmas movies. But it turned out that everyone already had their own plans. So Ben and I invited just the parents over and we had a small quiet dinner and then they went home. Lila and I got cookies for Santa and put a bunch of carrots out on the porch for the reindeer. We left him a note reminding him of the one thing she really wanted this year (big Tinkerbell coloring paper and paint to go with it) and we read The Night Before Christmas. I admit, I fell asleep in her bed with her and "Santa" almost didn't come...but in the middle of the night I woke up and made sure that everything was in place so that she would feel that magical feeling when she came down the stairs to see the tree lit up with her presents underneath.
After we were all finished opening the presents on Christmas morning and the three of us sat down to relax, I asked Lila if there was anything she wanted that Santa didn't bring her. She thought for a moment and said, "he didn't bring any slippers for Daddy...or a new coat for you." And I smiled because I realized that THIS was the kind of kid I wanted to raise.