The Special Needs of Christmas


by Lillian Csernica on December 7, 2013

Thanks to my last post, I’ve been asked to share some of the holiday traditions unique to the traveling circus that is my family.

My husband is old-fashioned about when it’s time to buy the Christmas tree.  We get ours about a week before Christmas.  It’s a big family affair to haul out all the boxes of lights and tinsel and decorations.  We put Michael in his wheelchair so he can help too.  Few things bring me greater joy than seeing Michael’s face light up when he points to the spot on the Christmas tree where he wants us to hang the next ornament.

John loves to bake, and he’s good at it.  When we bake Christmas cookies, John takes the tray of cookies over to Michael so Michael can shake colored sprinkles all over the dough before that tray goes into the oven.  Michael is very artistic, so we let him choose between red sugar, green sugar, or the jumble of fancy sprinkles.  John is careful to leave some of these cookies out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

Chris and John go to a tree farm and cut down a real live Christmas tree.  They’ve been doing this since John could only hold on to one end of the saw while Chris did all the work.  Now John can carry the whole tree all by himself.  (He could even carry Chris too, if he really needed to!)

Asking Mom what she wants for Christmas, which is a face-saving way of finding out what she needs but can’t really afford on her own. At this point in our lives, only the kids enjoy surprises.  It’s much better to give up a little mystery in order to make sure Mom is happy.

Not embarrassing my sister by making a big deal out of giving her something special. My sister is much happier giving gifts, and she does it really well.  Oh, I still give her at least one gift that relates to one of our in-jokes.  After all, I am the little sister and the brat of the family.

There are a few other holiday rituals that have evolved over the years, ones that I look forward to with a mixture of wary anticipation and gleeful dread:

Every year when we get out the boxes of Christmas ornaments, I wonder if this is the year when I should go for a Christmas tree with a theme. The magazines are full of so many great ideas. Now that I have this wonderful house with a living room big enough to have a decent-sized tree, will this be the year I achieve the style and grandeur of my dreams? My sister is good at theme trees. If we come up with a plan and I turn her loose, I’m sure she’ll create something spectacular. I also know that sooner or later John will find an ornament that just has to go on the tree, and we’ll probably end up letting the boys go wild with all of their favorite ornaments.

When it comes time to open our gifts on Christmas morning, my husband and I often exchange looks of good-natured anxiety. Who will it be this year? Who will be the one to receive my mother’s really tacky Christmas present? For a while it was always poor Chris. The crowning glory of my mother’s inappropriate Christmas gifts had to be the Garfield alarm clock that was as big as a truck tire. It’s a standing joke in the family that nothing can wake Chris up, not even a meteor strike.

Mom has this habit of finding out something a person likes, then locking on to that idea for every gift-giving occasion. My sister has gotten tigers year after year. My brother gets pelicans. Me, I’m the lucky one. Mom is always interested in my writing, so I get gifts that have to do with medieval history or Japan or living the writing life. And cats. I have so much cat-related stuff I could open a boutique. It got to the point where Chris absolutely forbade me to buy or accept any more cat Christmas ornaments. Some day I have to join a society for ailurophiles, just so I can volunteer to decorate its Christmas tree!

On the weekend before Christmas, I take John to see Santa Claus. Even though he’s been “too old” for a while now, he really believes in Santa Claus and I’m OK with that. John’s favorite Santa Claus is at a nearby mall. John is fifteen now, six feet tall and close to two hundred pounds. As we stand there in line with all the little kids who come up to John’s hip, people give us funny looks. John doesn’t notice and I don’t care. The first time we went to that mall about three years ago, I took the photographer aside and mentioned that John is autistic. The photographer was great, quite familiar with special needs kids. He and that Santa Claus have worked together for years and know how to handle just about everything. Of course John doesn’t sit on Santa’s lap, but Santa takes the time to have a nice talk with John every year when John brings Santa his wish list.

Last but certainly not least, every year I do my best to answer all the letters to Santa Claus the postal carriers deliver to me. I’m now in the happy position of being the volunteer for four post offices. (This isn’t as huge a job as it might sound, although last year I did answer almost fifty letters.)  I’ve been making my rounds, letting the postmasters know I’m at their service.

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6 Comments

Filed under autism, Family, fantasy, history, Humor, romance, Special needs, Writing

6 responses to “The Special Needs of Christmas

  1. Rebecca Douglass

    You are much better at traditions than we are! But we do always love getting the tree up and decorated, and I always imagine it with soft lights and Xmas music and the whole family working together, admiring each ornament as we unpack it, and maybe enjoying some cocoa on the side.

    The reality is somewhat different.

    I suppose this is why I’m a writer.

    Like

    • Thank you, Rebecca. “A different reality” really sums up life at my house! It’s hard to capture, isn’t it? The give and take of the family when you’re all in the moment together. I treasure it, because so often we’re all pursuing our own schedules.

      Like

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