by Lillian Csernica on December 3, 2013
I believe that I’ve finally outgrown my longing for a happy family Christmas. I’m talking about the kind of Normal Rockwell sentimental scene that I’ve never experienced in real life. Every year of my childhood, that’s what I really wanted for Christmas. No arguments. No worries about money. No getting just one present that had to cover both Christmas and my birthday. (I was born on Dec. 29th.) No asthma attacks that brought everything to a screeching halt and forced my mother to take me to the doctor. Nothing killed the holiday spirit between me and my brother and sister like Mom freaking out over me not being able to breathe.
By the time I was a teenager I’d finally developed enough of a protective shell of pragmatism and cynicism. My parents were divorced, my brother was off living his life in Arizona, and my sister had two small boys who were nothing but trouble. Christmas meant stress, and lots of it. I remember one Christmas Eve when my mother picked me up after my shift at the fast food place where I worked. I was wearing my “Bah Humbug” sweatshirt over my brown polyester uniform. We drove to my sister’s apartment to spend some time with her and the boys. That was unusual. I can’t remember why Mom thought that was a good idea. It remains a pleasant memory, so whatever happened on that occasion couldn’t have been too horrible.
As an adult, I’d been hoping that with the start of my own family, I might have a second chance at creating that Normal Rockwell scene. I got close to it one year when my husband Chris and I flew back to New Jersey to spend Christmas with his mother. She’d wrapped all the gifts for all of the various members of the extended family in the same wrapping paper, then piled them all up on what we started calling “the Christmas couch.” We’re talking dozens of packages of all different sizes. That was an impressive sight!
Then Michael came along and we had to start doing a lot of things differently than other families. That included how we handled the holidays. Chris said he and I could no longer stuff stockings for each other because that was for kids. (We’d been doing it for each other for seven years. I’m not sure what prompted this policy decision.) John arrived, and once he was able to run around we had to make sure he didn’t go after the Christmas tree like a kitten with opposable thumbs!
I think I’ve finally made peace with the reality that we just don’t do normal at my house. We can’t seem to manage that perfect holiday picture. It’s time to let go of what is really the product of an imagination fed on Christmas TV specials and seeing “The Nutcracker” ballet and watching ever version of “A Christmas Carol” ever made. Just like my problems with what makes a good, stable relationship, I have looked to books and movies for guidance about what’s important, what I should really want out of a situation. You’d think I’d know better, now that I’m a professional who makes a living working with the materials of make-believe.
The holiday season is not about pulling off an interior decorating plan that would impress Martha Stewart or cooking a feast that would win the admiration of Gordon Ramsey and his colleagues. I do what I can to make sure my sons understand that the heart of the season is the birth of the baby Jesus, Our Lord and Savior. I don’t know how much theology the boys can comprehend, but they do understand the importance of being a family and sharing in all the strange and goofy and wonderful customs that make our holiday celebration so special.