One night a year, I get to write this letter. It takes all of the usual ingredients of a normal post, alcohol, creative flogging and time spent staring at a wall, to name a few, but the whole process takes on a different meaning tonight. I try and shelve the cynicism. I leave the enemies list tucked into my pocket, ignore the normally-reliable cheap shots, and attempt to focus on this night of nights. I don’t get spiritual in the Christian sense but rather, I try and take the occasion to stroll across fond memories of the Christmases of my youth.
I remember my mom reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to me, the large, dog eared copy of the book the same one her father had read to her. I remember tucking in for a brutal Santa Barbara night, where the temps might hit 50 degrees, our obnoxious family feline, Fat Cat, running her motor on my shoulder until I dropped off into slumber land. I remember scrambling out of that bed to find what I’d been left by the mysterious St. Nick, who was always kind enough to leave me a couple of Clementine oranges in my stocking, along with a candy cane or two.
Christmas was a big deal around our house. My mother decorated like Martha Stewart when Martha Stewart was still running a catering business from her basement. We had the typical parties, punctuated by distant strangers pinching my cheeks while simultaneously blowing cigarette smoke everywhere; the kind of parties where I snuck off to try and make time with the Episcopal priest’s daughter, caring not that she was six years older than me. There was mistletoe….there was a chance. When scorned, I could always turn to listening to my new Beastie Boys tape, using it as a background for the sketches I’d draw of such deep topics as motorcycles and WWII-era bombers.
Before long I was loathing Christmas get-togethers, responding to forced interactions by showing up with a lumberjacks’ beard, a vest and a rebellious streak of alcohol permeating from my pores. There are few things in life as cynical as a teenagers jaded outlook on such urbane topics as “family” and “ugly sweaters”. I wanted out of there, wanted to jump in the ocean, wanted to head back to the hills, wanted to be anywhere but there. I’m sure my stance as an ingrate was noticed, and yet surprisingly I was allowed to continue to attend these functions, scowl in place. That’s the role of family, I guess – to tolerate you even when you’re going through that horrific phase, knowing it all.
Years later, I find myself longing for that embrace of family. They’re all in California, and I’m out here in Missouri where there is approximately a three percent chance of having a white Christmas. I’ve just finished reading the boys “Twas the Night Before Christmas” from a copy of the book from my childhood. We’ve started our own new traditions, including watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” several times, we leave a plate of carrots and cookies out for Santa and The Wife bakes like a woman possessed all day so that I’ll have something nice to take to the firehouse on Christmas Day. We’ll get up at 4:00am so that the kids can tear through their presents before I head out to work. I wish, though, that we were gathering at the familial home on 18th Street in Cayucos, California with family members numbering in the thirties, the teens looking sullen and put out, the kids running around like maniacs with their newly acquired toys, the elders just happy to be in the company of those they love.
When I take out the Clementine orange from my stocking tomorrow morning, I’ll be thinking of that family while forging new traditions with my family here in this house. It helps immensly that on the back of my handmade stocking, sewn so many years ago are my mom’s initials. Some traditions are meant to be kept alive, and I intend to keep it that way.
Merry Christmas, my friends. May your memories be forged in the happiness and joy that comes from those who love you the most.