Growing up, the weeks approaching Christmas were a nightmare. My mother has Seasonal Basketcase Disorder (SBD) and made damn sure we experienced every last molecule of the fallout from that.
She would bake about 12 million cookies, which, even after giving away crates and crates of them to friends, neighbours and random strangers, we’d still have to rush to choke down before the next baking frenzy hit the following November.
And then she’d Shop. (Yes, with an upper case “S”) She’d shop so much, my Dad would have to get a second job for several months before and after Christmas. Sso he wasn’t around much, which made the SBD (and fallout) even worse. And it wasn’t even gifts she was buying. No. It was Christmas-themed décor and clothing. Christmas dishes, Christmas tablecloths, Christmas towels, Christmas toilet paper and paper towels, Christmas socks and sweaters – a tiny Christmas village to which she added buildings and people and other tiny junk year after year until the tiny village slowly started taking over the entire house.
If all this had being done with a heart filled with the joy of the Christmas spirit, the explosion of red and green we called home would have been bearable. But no, it was done with grim (Lutheran) determination to fulfill her every last one of her obligations toward commemorating, in every possible, way the birth of the blessed baby jeebus.
Probably we kids, being resilient, could have shrugged off most of this Christmas fun, if it weren’t for the “Board of Shame”. Every year about a month before December 25th, Mom would post a board in festive green and red listing all of our names down one side. Every time we misbehaved in any way shape or form or just generally got on Mom’s last nerve, we’d get a big black “X” next to our name. For every “X” we got, we would be docked some percentage of gifts.
Oh boy! You can imagine the fierce competition that ensued – not to try and be good and not get “Xs”, but to try and manipulate our siblings into being bad and earning more “Xs” than you. So there was underhanded provocation, tattling whining, and even surreptitious drawing of “Xs” next to a sister or brother’s name in an attempted forgery of my mother’s bold, black penmanship.
Of course we all kept a very close tally on our “Xs” and were able to distinguish, to the tiniest marker-stroke, my mother’s “Xs” from an amateur forger’s. And so a whole new round of screaming, shouting, accusations and “Xs” would ensue.
And my mother would get more and more demented. And my father would work late, late into the night and leave before anyone else even got up in the morning.
So, by the time the most wonderful day of the year finally rolled around, we were all ready to be institutionalized. But had to go to church instead. And when we got home we could open our gifts and start eating all the shit my mum had cooked and baked.
My mother still enjoys whipping herself into a holiday frenzy beginning early in November, but most of us only get to experience it by telephone now. For years I boycotted Christmas altogether, but once XUP Jr. came along and was old enough to know what was going on, it seemed kind of cruel to deprive her of the Christmas she saw on TV and heard about from her friends. By how to accomplish that whilst sheltering her from the XUP family holiday?
Which is one of the reasons we moved to Halifax. I think we only came back for Christmas once during those 9 years, pleading the difficulties of holiday travel. So our Christmas has always been low-key to the extreme. No decorating, no baking, no malls. I buy all my gifts online – usually in one morning.
We’ve never had a Christmas tree, per se. One year we spray painted a big tree branch and put some lights on it and decorated it with ornaments XUP Jr. made at school. For a few years we had a Norfolk Island potted pine tree, which we’d gussie up a bit until it eventually got too big to keep in the house.
The best part of this time of year is that I take the 2 weeks off work and we spend some quality time together without too many distractions. Most other people are busy with family or travelling so the socializing is kept to a minimum. It’s too cold and dark to spend too much time running around, so we get a lot of home time together.
We go see the family for a few days during the holidays. I try to avoid my mother during that time by running errands “for her” or visiting with friends until Christmas Day. By that time she’s burnt out and semi-catatonic enough to be reasonably pleasant company. I also never visit during the holidays without a bottle of her favourite sweet sherry.
So I’ve come to a place where I rather enjoy the season. I sit back, hunker down and relax while everyone is maniacally scurrying around trying to “get ready” for Christmas.
Are you ready for Christmas? Oh my god, no!! Are you? There’s so much to do. I’ll never be ready in time. I can’t believe Christmas is only a little more than 2 weeks away. I still need to buy half my gifts. I have to find one of those things for the table. Thank god most of my decorating is done. How am I going to get everything done? Oh, I hope it snows soon!! We can’t have Christmas without snow! Why haven’t we had any snow yet???? Come ON snow! I haven’t been able to sleep properly for weeks, I’m that worried about all the stuff I still have to do. I have so much cooking to do. I feel sick. I’m not READY!!