So it’s the holiday season, which highlights yet another way that I tend to differ dramatically from the average human being. We’re not a Christian family, and yet not really a secular one either. I’ve never encouraged my kids to believe in Santa, which tends to get a lot of raised eyebrows. However, this year, I’m noticing that apart from all the differences that are just a part of Who I Am, I have actually always had a “different” sort of holiday season, even as a child. This notion was recently inspired by various comments from others about their own childhood holiday memories, and now that it’s occurred to me, I can’t believe I wasn’t bothered by this as a kid. One blog in particular, Alice’s, of From the Fox’s Den , posted an entry about her childhood holidays that sounded so appealing to me, despite the fact that it really wasn’t that kind of mushy, adoring post. So why were my holidays so cracked? Allow me to elaborate…
I am an only child, and have very little extended family. Further, my parents have always been painfully anti-social, and now that I’m an adult, I’m pretty sure that both of them are textbook cases of at least one acute personality disorder each. My parents did not “do Santa Claus”, and I think this was mainly because at age three or so, I cornered them and demanded to know HOW Santa could possibly get presents to everyone in the world all in one night, and anyway, WE didn’t have a chimney. Caught off-guard, they admitted the truth, and thereafter I am sure I was *that kid*, ruining other children’s blithe illusions of Santa Claus. In my defense, I was three. And raised by antisocial people.
One of my earliest memories was pleading with my parents to set up the Christmas decorations. I had no idea that other families had a tree up from turkey day ’til the middle of January, because ours went up whenever my father’s resolve finally cracked under my whining. He’d get all the cool boxes down from the attic, usually a few days before the 24th (This is when we celebrated Christmas from as early as I can recall. December 25th was mainly this annoying day on which you’d want to go spend your Christmas money, but all the stores were closed!). Then my mother’s OCD would kick in: everything was full of germs. She’d argue with my dad about how we needed to throw it all away because it was hazardous, toxic, and probably full of bugs and dirt too. The decor was always double-bagged (by my mother!), and carefully, air-tightly packed away in the attic. But every year we’d go through the same weirdness. I lived in constant fear that she’d throw out my favorite ornaments or garland. Oh, and we couldn’t have tinsel because the cats would choke on it.
I never had a concept of a Christmas dinner until I was an adult. We didn’t do that at all, because it was “a repeat of Thanksgiving” and therefore, too much work….? Sometimes we ate out, at the Kettle…and if you don’t know what the Kettle is, think one step above a greasy-spoon diner in the middle of nowhere. Not terribly festive. Sometimes we’d visit my dad’s widowed mother, or track her down, more likely. She was often found playing bingo at her usual haunts, and a little thing like Christmas Eve wasn’t going to deter her! She always gave me gifts, and I was happy to get them, even though they were usually oddball items that made me wonder where she found them in the first place. She did always buy the best European Christmas cookies though, in a blue tin. I loved those blue tin cookies. My mother, a self-proclaimed “non-domestic”, might have baked something five or six times in her entire life. We never baked cookies for the holidays, and this is probably why that’s an important tradition that I have with my own children now.
The presents, wow. That part of my childhood Christmases, looking back, was just unreal. I would circle things from the Sears Wishbook and totally expect to get the majority of the items. Since I had dispelled the Santa myth at a tender age, my parents didn’t try to hide who the presents were from. My mom was always a catalog shopper, and while she might have missed the mark in a lot of ways, she did put in incredible effort to get me the most mind-blowingly awesome presents I never even knew I wanted. Sometimes I appreciated this, and sometimes, I would have rather gotten that Bob Mackie designer Barbie doll I’d circled…. However, I haven’t met too many other people who could say they got gifts like a pottery wheel, a concert-style keyboard, a telescope and microscope, a doorway trapeze bar, and multiple Lego sets.
I’ve only touched upon a few points of how odd our holidays really were. (Not mentioning the traditional spectacular fights my parents had!) However, I think it’s better expressed in terms of what we didn’t do…or maybe, what we didn’t feel. Nowadays, I aim for a very simple holiday season with my children. I loathe the commercialized, overblown nonsense that is pushed at us by the stores. I don’t “do Santa” in the traditional sense with my children either (although my three-year old is really excited about the idea of Santa right now…we’ll see where that leads!). I do, however, plan a Yule ritual with them. We sing Christmas carols and do crafts. Cookie baking is absolutely essential. We pick one lazy December evening on which we all bundle up in the car with pajamas and hot cocoa, and drive around to see other people’s holiday lights. I put up a nice tree as soon as the kids get excited about it (and I try not to let on that I really don’t enjoy setting up the tree!). We have a nice dinner, with mulled wine, at least two desserts and several courses, just for the fun of it–even if it’s on some random day in December due to my husband’s work schedule.
Mostly, all these things I do with my own children are to give them memories of a holiday feeling….an emotional joy to the season that cannot be measured or isolated. Family and love, generosity and selflessness, are not really the words I’d use to describe my own childhood holidays…but hopefully that’s how my kids will recall the season: full of love for family.