We all knew this would come. We knew we couldn’t stop it. Christmas is here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to sit here and spit venom about many people’s favorite holidays. Rather, I am simply going to tell you all about how strange I find the Christmas season in general.
To me, Christmas time is quite possibly the strangest month or so of the entire year. You see, my family has never been super close, so the whole getting somebody something that they don’t even know that they want yet has never really been a possibility. Thus, we’ve come to rely heavily on the Christmas list, which has a strict deadline of Thanksgiving dinner to be handed out to our relatives, otherwise they will call you every day until you actually get them some type of list.
So, a few days before Thanksgiving I sit down, and start writing out a list. Now, after twenty-plus Christmas’, I’ve come to figure out a few key rules on making the Christmas list:
- The more items you put on the list, the less likely you are to get what you want: Pretty simple, but it needs to be mentioned. Plus, if you put the thing you really, really want on the list, there’s a decent chance that someone just won’t get it for you because, in their mind, giving is better than receiving and all things on your list are created equal (Two things we all know are goddamn lies). That’s why you cut the list down to only about 3-5 things that you actually want, and then just list, “Assorted Gift Cards, & etc.” at the end to cover any loose ends.
- Make sure there is something for everyone’s price-range: In my family, everyone puts a price limit of how much they love you. Er, I mean, how much they are willing to spend. This is very important, because you don’t want to put a whole bunch of really expensive items on your list when you know damn well that your aunt has a gambling issue that nobody talks about (so much so that your parents got mad at her because she kept thinking Powerball tickets and scratch offs are acceptable Christmas gifts (which, let’s be honest, there is nothing cooler in the world to a 6-year-old than a scratch off)), so they don’t usually have that much spendable money laying around, and you certainly don’t want to make them think that they need to head to the casino to get more money just so they can buy you an iPad or an Original Collector’s Edition Furby. Or maybe you just have frugal relatives, and you know that your uncle has the uncanny knack for finding the most affordable (coughcoughcheapestcoughcough) knock off item that he can find and then still leave the price tag on so that you see it and start to get upset that he spent so little on you and then you start to feel bad that you would stoop to the level of judging someone based on how much they spent on the gift that they gave to you for no other reason than that they still believe in god and the “true” meaning of Christmas being about celebrating the birth of the savior, not about getting bomb-ass gifts, so you just think to yourself, ‘fuck it,’ and accept it and never mention it again until you get an anonymous blog and you can talk all the shit you want without ever needing to be worried about answering for your opinions or letting your family know that you’re a materialistic bastard. Again, gift cards work really well for this purpose.
- Always be as specific as possible: I understand the hesitation behind being too specific; you want to make the list seem like an idea generator, not a shopping list. But keep in mind that the season is about giving, so your family may as well be giving you the exact thing that you really wanted. If you’re just generalizing your list, you may end up disappointed. If you put down, “exercise equipment,” you might end up getting the Shakeweight instead of the Shakeweight Pro that you really wanted. Or if you put down, “DVDs of good TV Shows,” you might get a couple seasons of Ugly Betty instead of the entire series of Gilmore Girls that you secretly wanted but didn’t want to tell anybody about because you’re a guy. Or maybe you put down, “Good books,” and you’ll end up with a collection of James Patterson’s finest pile of shit.
Putting too few items on your list has its risks, too: Namely, Scarves. The issue that I’ve had when it comes to putting too few items on your list (in conjunction with rule number 1), is that people feel bad about getting you just one little store-bought thing, so they decide to make you something. Now, I understand that it’s (supposedly) the thought that counts, but you cannot sit there and say that the thought wouldn’t be much more appreciated if it came with a real world use or application. Thus, my family tends to get scarves. My mom and sister both knit them, other people will buy them, and it seems like almost every year now, I get them. Again, I appreciate that they care about my comfort and health and fashion enough to get me a scarf, but it just goes to show that they clearly did not stop for a second to put any thought into the gift that they got me whatsoever. I have never worn, nor am I currently wearing, nor will I ever wear a scarf. Ever. Ever. Ever. I have struggled through too many years in high school of pathetic, desperate attempts at facial hair to not keep a full, thick beard at all times now that I can grow one. And if you’ve never had a beard, it acts just like a scarf, except you don’t have to worry about it being too loose, and you will ALWAYS look more badass with a beard. And I’ve had a beard now for about five years, so it’s not exactly like it’s a new development. But, nevertheless, someone in my family will take a look at my list, and want to go the extra mile (for which I’m appreciative), and get me a scarf. And I, in turn, will take that scarf graciously, and at the end of the night, take it up to my bedroom and place it on the coat hook all the way in back of my bedroom closet, with about ten other scarves that have never been worn. Alas, the tragic life of forgotten knitwear.
The next strange thing about Christmas is the annual Christmas dinner. Every year for the entirety of my childhood, my family would hop in the car and head off to my grandmother’s house. Before dinner was ready, we would munch on some appetizers (which, being from Wisconsin, means an untouched vegetable tray, a box of wheat thins, and about two pounds of cheese) while engaging in small talk about our lives as if anything major had changed or happened in the last month since Thanksgiving. So that leaves me the choice between telling them that nothing is new, and opening the night up to more in depth discussions of my life and why my $120,000 English degree from Marquette is going down the drain by me working second-shift in a bakery, or I could just simply tell them the same exact stories that I have already told them. I choose the latter, usually, and hope that I can somehow remember the stories that I made up to tell them at Thanksgiving well enough that they don’t call me out for one of those stories changing. Sure, there is the third option of saying nothing and learn about the happenings in their lives, but I don’t want to know about how my Uncle was able to squeeze in a quick 18 holes of golf on December 10th because of the mild weather. But like clockwork, before I have to go into too much detail, my saving grace appears. The roast comes out of the oven, and we all stop what we’re doing and go to the dinner table to eat. Same shitty food, but we all say we love it, and eat way, way too much of it (And we still do. I mean, how else am I supposed to put back on the 25 pounds that I’ve lost since graduation? (“Who’s a sexy bitch?” “I am! I am!”)). Roast beef sandwiches, pasta salad, 7-Layer salad (Hey, I’m from Wisconsin and it’s fucking delicious), dinner rolls, some type of vegetables which suffer the same fate as the veggie appetizer platter, and this strange concoction that my grandma just loved, consisting of candied fruits mixed into a tub of Cool Whip. She called it salad. Nobody touched it.
Now, that’s all fine and dandy. I knew what would be good and what to avoid. And the small talk would always stop because we knew that all that my grandma wanted to hear was how good the food was and how much we all loved each other and how great of a family we are. Well, she’s dead now. And it’s not like we didn’t see it coming. 70 years as a smoker has that affect, I’m told. But for the last couple of years, she had been circling the drain and was always too weak to be moved out of her hospice room to our house for dinner. So, this opened up a grand opportunity for us. We could say, “To hell with tradition,” and we could eat, literally, whatever we wanted to. Three years ago, we had barbequed beef. Two years ago, we had lasagna. Last year, we had bratwursts and Italian sausages. It was amazing. And it never struck me that we could actually do this. It was as if our family was waiting for my grandma to kick it or to be too sick to cook or come to dinner to break out the good food. And I have to say, it really made dealing with the awkwardness worth it. And yes, we all miss my grandma and it’s a tragedy she died and all that sentimental stuff that you want me to say so that I don’t seem like a total bastard if you are reading this because of a link you found while surfing the, “Freshly Pressed,” section of WordPress so that I seem like a more likable narrator/main character (something my English professor taught me was necessary in order to have a successful piece of writing (Gotta put that degree to work)). But goddamnit, I love lasagna.
This next particularly strange aspect of Christmas will most likely be new to you all, taking even me until just a few weeks ago to figure it out. But you know when you eat Thanksgiving dinner and after the dinner and desserts and your family is just kind of sitting around talking to each other and waiting until it’s an appropriate time to leave and somebody finally says, “You know, that tryptophan is really getting to me, I think I need to go home and take a nap,” or maybe they just go into the TV room at your house and take a nap right then and there? For some reason, it happens after Christmas dinner, too. There’s no turkey in Christmas dinner, so what gives? Sure, you could argue that it’s because it’s just a really long day in general (let’s face it, waking up early, going to church, opening presents, saying thank you a million times, watching Elf three-and-a-half times, and then eating dinner while suppressing any and all opinions on politics/morals/religion truly does take a lot out of you), or that it’s because of the sheer quantity of food that you consume in that short amount of time. But I dare to venture to say it’s something different. You see, it happens at every holiday. And what’s present at every holiday? Your family. And what’s the one thing that you are happy about once the holidays are over? The fact that your family left. Sure, you love your family and all that, but it’s always a relief to get away after spending a whole bunch of time with them. And who is the first one to “get tired?” Your parents. You see, they’ve been around the block a few times, so they know exactly what to do in order to have an immediate and foolproof exit from family events (A lifetime of seeing the same people who tell the same stories over and over again has got to be exhausting). And everyone knows how tiring the holidays are in general, from shopping for your relatives, to shopping for yourself, to shopping for yourself again after Christmas to use up all your gift cards before you forget about them, so nobody really has the authority to question or call you out for wanting to go and take a nap. It’s just like when you were a kid, and you knew how to pretend to be super sick so you could get out of school because you have a test that you didn’t study for that day, and yet miraculously be healthy and strong enough to eat the lasagna that your parents make for dinner (I’m sorry, but I really do love lasagna).
Our parents are simply the adult version of Ferris and Sloane. Is it deceitful? Maybe. Genius? Absolutely.
But perhaps the strangest thing about Christmas is actually the month or so leading up to Christmas. For those of you who are super into Christmas, maybe you don’t quite understand this part, but being multicultural is a big part of being a good person, so keep reading. For everyone else, you know what I’m talking about. The phone calls from relatives, asking you why your Christmas list is a couple days/a week/two weeks late. Those same relatives calling what seems like five or six times to ask what time they should show up for dinner. Your uncle asking if he should make that Cool Whip salad that grandma loves so much just for tradition’s sake. Your last final before winter break. Your last day of work before you take off for the holidays. It’s those moments when you are forced to acknowledge that it, in fact, is the holidays, and that you, in fact, do have a family, and they will love you and talk to you, and buy you shit even if you somehow manage to have enough excuses for not getting them a list until the 23rd. A family that will undoubtedly continue to pester you about your personal and professional life until you finally give in and admit that, while you aren’t married yet (I’m only 22, cool your fucking jets), you did see a cute girl the other day.
Granted, they don’t know that you were speaking in the absolute most literal definition of the word, “see,” and that no, you do not actually know Alexis Bledel, nor will you probably ever meet her, but when they ask about her you refer to her as Alex and describe the plotline of your favorite Gilmore Girls episode (preferably an episode from when she’s dating Logan and they get into a fight, because then your family will totally be on your side saying how they think that she just dump him because he’s being such a tool or scumbag and start marrying with you (Note: Constantly referring to a potential significant other by a non-gendered name such as Alex may cause your relatives, who have never met her, to ponder the possibility that you may be gay. Even if you aren’t, it’s a fun little game to see who in your family becomes most uncomfortable with this possibility)). All the little moments that break you from your meta-reality where you pretend like there is absolutely nothing notable is going on in the next few weeks whatsoever. The world and reality that you choose to live in because you know in your heart of hearts what’s just around the bend. (It’s a lot like when you start seeing Facebook statuses about how much people hate the new Facebook, but your profile hasn’t gotten updated with it quite yet. You know it’s coming, and you hate it and you want to take your profile, run away with it, and hide out in peace and quiet in a world stuck in a time even before even Facebook Chat and Timeline and that stupid fucking instant update of any and everything that your friends do). Those moments, when you are walking a tightrope over the canyon of time, and you’re focused, looking dead ahead toward the goal of January, and every time you think that you’re almost there, you allow your gaze to drop and you realize that you’ve never done tightrope walking before, or anything acrobatic for that matter, and that you are doomed, at one point or another, to fall into the pits of familial love and endure the perils of quality time.
And so that, my friends, is the story of why I find Christmas time to be so damn strange. It’s not that I don’t like the holiday or my family or anything like that (actually, that may be debatable), but it’s a stressful time, and everyone is on edge at least a little bit because of that. And I’m certainly not saying that these strange things are by any means bad things. God knows I’m a pretty weird dude, but I still maintain that I’m pretty decent guy (Did you hear that Alexis?). Consider this some food for thought as you enter your childhood homes, or your grandmother’s home, or wherever you go for the holidays, and try to recognize your own family’s strange habits. And remember, the loosening of the belt and yawn is way overplayed. Try raising your hand to your brow to block whatever the nearest and brightest light source is, close your eyes, and try to suppress your yawn (preferably only one. Two Max.) before you announce your exit. Much more subtle, much more respected, much more effective.
Take it easy, and Merry Christmas,