O! There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays!

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!!


26 responses to “O! There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays!

  1. Your childhood Xmases sounded like sheer living hell. No wonder you largely boycott the holiday as an adult.

    I do, too. I really enjoy the feeling of serenity I get when I observe the surrounding chaos and crass commercialism.

  2. Man, you made me laugh out loud again! Thanks.

    People don’t understand when I say I would actually move (or sell my practice) in order to avoid something but I see that you would.

  3. “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.”
    I don’t understand what could be more institutionalizing than locking up younguns in church?
    Luckily, at least in your case you managed to avoid the forced lobotomizing. You should thank the little baby jeebus for saving your mind.

  4. Christmas toilet paper??? Whoa.

    I’m not ready for Christmas, never am. Never intend to be. My gift buying will be done by the end of the week (not much of it in any case) – between gift certificates for the “kids” and “homemade” jams and stuff from the Christmas farmer’s market in the Laurentians, I’m done.

    I simply can’t be bothered. I feel no need to recreate my childhood Christmases – though they were lovely indeed.

  5. I experience about one day of SBD per year. Usually around December 1 when those about me are telling me about all the things they have ALREADY bought, baked, wrapped or stuffed. And then I give myself a shake realizing that we muddle through on our own little time line every year.

    Now that holiday notes are out early (to accomodate the address change from our move) and a couple of wee gifties are on their way to a daughter who won’t be home for the first time, those of us in the nest will put up a tree sometime after the missing one’s December 18th birthday (we celebrate one event at at time chez nous), make sure there are some yummy things to share with friends and just generally kick back to enjoy. Holiday prep may actually take less time than that last run on sentence . . .

    Ho ho ho.

  6. Susan – Perhaps “hell” is a bit strong, but they sure weren’t much fun. I don’t know what it is about Christmas that makes people get all wacky like this. I know for sure my mum isn’t the only one with SBD

    Julia – I really do get the moving to avoid stuff thing. I just didn’t think people other than me even contemplated such a thing. Of course not everyone is footloose enough to do it. Glad I gave you a chuckle.

    Bandobras – It was only a couple of hours, so not really much of a confinement and certainly not long enough for any serious brainwashing. It took me until I was in my 20s and attended another church at Christmas to realize that some churches think Christmas is a fun, celebratory time.

    Jazz – Really! It’s cold. It’s dark all the time — why would you want to add to this misery by racing around like you’re off your nut for something that’s supposed to be a “holiday”?? Why not take the time to huddle by a fire, read some good books, listen to new music, drink some wine with friends, get reacquainted with your immediate family who you usually just see as you’re passing each other in or out the door.

    Grace – Nothing like a December birthday to put off the Christmas acitivity, is there? Same thing at my place. We don’t even start thinking about Christmas until December 8th. Enjoy!

    Julie – It’s okay. It’s funny now. We laugh about it often though my mother pretends to know nothing about such a thing. She has a very selective memory for stuff like that.

  7. I revel in the busy-ness of the season – I love looking at the calendar and seeing busy days ahead filled with socializing and what-not. Christmas is pretty easy for me though because my Mom still loves to host dinner, as does my mom-in-law, so I don’t have that stress, well, unless you consider eating lots of food stressful.
    I also dig a couple of days of being by the fire and reading my book.

  8. Our household was much more relaxed about Xmas than yours, and most of my Christmas memories are fond.

    Most. But we kids still experienced the odd Catholic Guilt Trip.

    Once, we had Christmas Trees made of green construction paper with our names on them. If we were bad, we got an “X”. If we were good, we got a star, which would be added to the tree, or cover up an X.

    The point of the whole thing was to cover your tree with stars.

    (Not that I recall coming up with this lame-ass idea in the first place..)

    Of course (big suprise), my tree had more X’s than stars. I got tired of this sword of Damocles hanging over my head, being reminded ever time I misbehaved.

    I said I was fed up with this tree, and I’d like to throw it out.

    Fine, my Mom said. But that’s your Christams Gift to Baby Jesus. If you want to throw that out…that’s up to you.

    Fun, eh?

    Thankfully, that was the only hear my folks pulled that stunt.

  9. When I was growing up, that frantic feeling didn’t usually arrive until hours before Christmas Eve, when suddenly my father would realize he could put off the shopping no longer and my mother started her baking. Many’s the time we would be running back and forth for supplies while wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve (or morning, even!) before visiting the aunts and uncles to exchange.
    Procrastination runs in our family. This is why I love the bag and tissue paper wrapping style.

  10. I decorated just after Thanksgiving which was early for me. Just our little tree, a tablescape on the big credenza and my Santa Clauses on the mantel. We keep our gift list simple and do most of it online as half of the people live out of state. Our Christmas day plans are to have my daughter and her fiance over for a shrimp boil and to watch the movie The Ref. We’ll probably run over to my husband’s folks on Christmas eve and maybe watch Meet Me In St. Louis. I like a stress-free Christmas myself.

  11. My mother use to decorate the house for days before Christmas and one year she wrapped real holly around the toilet and my father sat down and got some stuck to his ass and came out of the bathroom into the kitchen to have my mother yank the holly off and seeing my father’s white bare ass with holly sticking to it, well has pretty much scarred me for life…now all I can see is a big German mans ass with holly hanging …well, it just wasn’t pleasant for anyone.

  12. The only bad part of my OC mother and Christmas is that she had to balance the ornaments. We were instructed in where to put them so a red ball on one side, balanced a red ball on the other.

    I have definitely gone all out in decorating, and baking, when I was young and energenic. Lately, not so much.

  13. One thing I used to do with our children when they were small was to ‘fill the manger with straw’. We are a heathen family but encouraging our children to do good things was a priority even in the off season. At Christmas, however, a doll cradle became our manger and everyone was allowed to place a piece of construction paper straw in it each time a ‘good deed’ was done. Adding the straw had to be a private thing and with no mention of the good deed preceding that event. It worked well and, although the good deeds could not be mentioned, this mom saw a few nice things happen around our house at Christmas time.

    Do you think Cedarflame made that story up? 😉

  14. Does everybody need therapy but me? Cool.

    I loved our Christmases. Good food, good family, good visits.

    The best part was the 2 weeks away from work or school. We were allowed to relax, in fact we were forced to relax. Nowadays its frantic, but that is always the case, holidays or not.

    Life is too busy. But for the 1st time in 6 years I am taking time off at Christmas. I can’t wait.I’m going to take your suggestion, some good books, some good company and maybe even some restful times with my family.


  15. Meanie – I don’t like seeing things on the calendar at the best of times because that means I have “plans” and what if I don’t feel like going anywhere when it’s time to fulfill those plans?

    Friar – Ya that tree thing sounds a lot like the Board of Shame, except that baby jesus wasn’t involved in our. Lutherans don’t do guilt. It’s all about fear. Much more effective in the long run.

    Violetsky – Your parents are the polar opposites of mine. It must have been fun living in a spur of the moment family.

    Geewits – That sounds sensible and relaxing enough. Shrimp boil for Christmas, eh? I’ve never heard that.

    Cedar – How did the rest of you survive the holly and not big-assed Dad?

    Savanvleck – Hmmm – that’s pretty OC all right. She might have been better off with one of those trees that have all the same coloured ornaments on them.

    Loth – Ya think? Mwah-ha-ha…In my mother’s defense, December 25 was also her birthday and lots of people go a little mental on their birthday, right? Also she had 5 kids by the time she was 35 and lived in the middle of nowhere. And was a stay home mom.

    Grace – Sounds very quiet and cherubic. I can’t imagine a family like that. I wonder if my mother says stuff like this to other people about our childhoods? I believe everything Cedar tells me. I think if she was going to make up a story it would be really wild.

    Eyeteaguy – I find I need a holiday more this time of year than any other. I actually want to sleep past 6:00 am when it’s mid-winter and just generally feel very uninterested in work and much more interested in home, friends, family…okay that’s not any different than any other time of year, but trust me, I feel it twice as much as usual. Enjoy your time off. I hope you’re taking the whole 2 weeks?

  16. You have once again proven that you are thickly coated in awesome sauce.

    This is the direction Geekster and I are trying to steer our little family in: a toned down, family-centered holiday season with a handful of small, meaningful gifts, a nice relaxed meal and a little bit of visiting. We decorate, but not extensively. We do family stuff, but not extensively. And, I’m not hosting Christmas this year. It’s just too stressful for all of us.

    “Okay, let’s all open our gifts. We have one hour. GO! Great. now breakfast. Okay, play for half an hour while we tidy up all the gift mess. Now everyone start cleaning – put your toys away! I said CLEAN! People are coming over! You can play later… Don’t cry. Listen, Geekster, don’t tell me to leave them alone. Company’s coming and this place is a MESS! Okay, no I’m crying… And you’re not talking to me, and something is burning on the stove, and where the hell is my bottle of Advil…”

    No. Thank. You.

  17. I’m also low-key on the Christmas front. I usually do very last minute shopping and wrangle a tree into a slight leaning position a few days before The Big Day. Years I knew Gav would be with his dad’s family, I didn’t even bother getting a tree and bought his gifts shhhhh much cheaper after Christmas. I usually only do gifts for the kids. Unless, of course, you’re wanting a very Alabama gift this year. A package of grits perhaps?

  18. I’ve stopped mailing Christmas cards. I decided it was stressful and most of the time I didn’t get cards in return which hurt my feelings. I wouldn’t even have a tree but my husband wants one. I am a Scrooge about Christmas and trying to improve my attitude.

  19. Sean – Are you calling me crazy? Huh? Are you? Huh? I think maybe it sounds a lot worse compressed into a couple of paragraphs than it was spread out over years.

    Maven – Good for you. I really don’t understand this need to make yourself nuts about Christmas. I see people at work on the verge of an actual breakdown because they have “so much to do”. Of course these are federal government employees who are unaccustomed to having to do more than one thing at a time and not having all the time in the world to get it done.

    OTC – You might want to check out the Wednesday blog for more Alabama-style gift ideas!

    Linda – Oh ya, the cards! What a waste of paper and postage those are. I never know what to do with them. I feel stupid having them stand around on a shelf for a few weeks. They don’t say anything. They don’t really mean anything. All the people I want to share my holidays with I’ll do it in person or, if I can’t I’d write them an actual letter/email. People I only think of once a year? What’s the point? I don’t like all the commercial/greed trappings of Christmas either – it’s enough to turn anyone into a Scrooge. It’s just a nice time of year to take a break and get to know your family again, to me.

    Geewits – Well, I’d be shocked and awed if you did ANYTHING in the usual, traditional way! Good on ya.

  20. wow, this is fascinating. did you grow up thinking this normal? and then realize after you moved out it wasn’t? that always interests me. I grew up thinking so much was normal (I guess it was normal for us) and then realized when I moved away that we were one of “those” families. SBD–now that is hilarious! I can attribute that to my maniacal shopping cousin. She’s blinded by her Christmas list, not present, no longer operative.

  21. Lola – No, I saw movies and TV shoes and heard Xmas stories from friends where Xmas was magical and wonderful and everyone was happy and sang songs and loved each other and had the best time. I always felt totally ripped off.

  22. it’s amazing what we survive from our childhoods…. geez i can see why you weren’t big on celebrating until xup jr arrived.

    i refuse to get crazy about the whole thing and try to keep myself calm and focus on my kids and making it special for them.