I’ve had nearly four decades of Christmases.
I don’t remember all of them, but I remember bits of many of them.
The Christmas I got a stuffed lion and a stuffed elephant, so I could act out Wild Kingdom in my living room. My brother mentioned that lions ate gazelles, and I burst into tears at the thought that my lion might take out a reindeer.
The Christmas my holiday dress got drenched with orange punch at the holiday dance, and I went home early with a giant spot on my sapphire blue taffeta. My brother offered to go back and beat up the girl who spilled on me, but I opted just to put on some sweatpants and drink hot chocolate.
The Christmas we laughed so hard at cheesy old music while decorating the tree that it took us 4 hours, until well after midnight. By the end, nearly anything we did would result in ten minutes of sustained, breathless laughter, which terrorized our pets and left me with zero voice for my choir concert the next day.
The Christmas as an adult that 3/4 of us were either out of work or struggling to get enough work, and extras were off the table… but we still had an amazing time just being a family together. I’d never believed that presents were the key to the holiday’s value, but I’d also never had absolutely nothing to give. That was an experience I needed to have.
The Christmas I moved into my apartment with my best friend, Catherine, and we put up our tree on November 3rd, much to our delight… and everyone else’s horror. I’d found my early holiday kindred spirit!
The Christmas Gradon met my family in Vancouver, but had to leave a couple of days before the 25th. My extended family drove me utterly nuts, asking weird questions about him and asking me if I missed him, and all I could think was, “It doesn’t feel right without him here.” Which was amazing and tough and telling.
The Christmas right after we got married, which was a wonderful one, but a reversal of the above: the first Christmas I hadn’t spent with my parents. It’s utterly uncommon that it hadn’t happened before, I know (many of my friends go a few years, or many years between visits) but the knowledge that they were missing me and I was missing them — and how much everything had changed — was bittersweet. Still, my husband! Ahhh.
The Christmas Jessica the cat peed on my dad’s new tie under the tree, as we gazed at our presents before heading off for church. My dad grabbed her and “put her out” in the backyard for a couple of minutes while we cleaned up… leaving a cat-shaped dent in three feet of snow.
The Christmas my brother came home from the army, looking both dashing and completely startling in his super-short hair and crisp uniform. It felt like I was watching a movie every time I looked at him. He was finally a real grown-up in my eyes. Kind of.
The Christmas I landed the lead in “Gift of the Magi” — in part because I had crazy long hair, and in part because I could act pretty well for a ten year-old. But for some reason that neither of us understands to this day, I asked my mom for a drastic haircut a couple of days before the play… and she did it. I’d completely forgotten I needed the length. After staring at me like I was either evil or senile when I got to school the next day, my teacher returned the short wig for the post-cut scenes in favor of a long wig for the pre-cut scenes, and everything turned out just fine.
The Christmas I spent our yearly open house lying in the guest bed watching TV. I had bronchitis and a fever of (what felt like) one million, and both of my ear drums would later burst from the pressure, leaving me with some degree of permanent hearing loss. My toddler cousin, Kelly, who was allergic to Red Dye no.5, snuck a couple of blocks of red Jell-O from the buffet (Jell-O that my mom had firmed into shape with Knox gelatin.) She carried them up to the room I was in, and popped them in her mouth with a smile. Less than thirty seconds later, I was covered in a red Jell-O explosion: on the TV, on the blankets, on my pajamas, and even on my face and in my hair. The look of shock each person gave me when they walked in the room (and wondered if they’d stumbled into a slasher film) was amazing.
The Christmas I nearly pitched myself off our upstairs neighbor’s balcony because I went to blow up a giant, inflatable, light-up snow globe, and it grew so large, I ended up pinned to the railing (with one leg over.)
The Christmas I went on a harbor cruise for my work party, and the power and engine died halfway out, leaving us stranded in the dark. Stranded in the dark with a confused group of cater-waiters, a pack of girls chilled to the bone in our holiday frocks, and a bunch of guys who (rather than offering jackets or a warm arm) attempted to start a bonfire in a wastebasket.
The Christmas after my dad had lost both of his parents in the space of a few years, and suddenly, it was up to the next generation to carry the torch. I remember wondering what we’d do — my generation — when our parents weren’t around anymore, and found myself crying onto my slice of fruitcake (which ultimately improved the flavor.)
The Christmas eve last year, when I ordered Chinese takeout for my family, and we spent the evening laughing and enjoying time together. We left the 13 y.o. playing video games by the light of the tree when we went to bed at midnight, and as I glanced out at that sight just before I closed our bedroom door, I thought, “This is what I dreamed about for many years, and look, there it is.” Then I went to shut the door quietly, and heard him yell, “MEG! MEG! Where are the Doritos?”
Merry Early Christmas, everyone.