And as such, was marked by the crinkle of wrapping paper, the slosh of wine in my glass and a certain melancholy nostalgia.
Well, nostalgia of a sort.
I wax poetic about scenes of family gathered early around a Christmas tree so beautiful as to seem lit from within by the very spirit of the holiday. The spicy smell of evergreen mingled with pancakes and Christmas chocolates. Mother and Father reclined beneficently in their chairs sniffing their cups of strong coffee while pajama clad children sit cross-legged beside the tree, a Christmas movie on TV in the background.
I dream of huge family dinners with a kids’ table and aunts and uncles gathered noisily around trays and trays of food spread on every flat surface the kitchen can offer up. The bustle of holiday travel, and arrivals festooned in long scarves and snowy boots. A driveway packed bumper to bumper with cars.
I imagine a Hallmark Sunday movie of a holiday season- love, reunion, family and a moral to the story that wraps the day up in a neat little bow.
You see, my family has never been the traditional type. Fights and emotional outbursts replace easy gatherings and family closeness. Every year the argument about who “has to” visit who and who got screwed out of the turkey leftovers. Awkward silences and impersonal gifts marking the once-a-year we all see one another.
I am 40 years old and think of Christmas with the hopes and wishes of a child.
In this middle place of my life I have found the promise of this holiday season. An in-law paradise of FaceTiming, coffee dates, family vacations and calls just to see how I am doing. I have found a veritable flurry of Christmas cards in my mailbox- each from someone wishing my little family the best for the holidays and sending loving goodwill. There are Grandparents far away sending teary messages about missing us especially at this time of year and battling to schedule who can fly in when to stay with us.
It has taken me many years, and the arrival of my infant daughter, to realize that in continuing to wish for things that can not be, from people who can not give them, I have been complicit in ruining Christmas for myself, my grown son and my husband.
This year I am speaking up for my vision of a peaceful and loving holiday. I am backing out of the fight; I am excusing myself from the role I have played in keeping this little family melodrama alive for so many years. Christmas is at my house this year. In the country, with a huge fresh-cut tree. All of our family have been invited and the rest is up to them. I decline to argue or be baited. I decline to sacrifice my peace of mind and joy of heart just to see family that would truly rather be elsewhere.
So on Christmas morning you will find me- curled up on my couch, cuddled around a hot cup of coffee and my hubby. My son will be here in his new jammies opening his stocking and my daughter will be tearing into the wrappings of her very first Christmas. My sister-in-law will come with her kids and we will eat like there’s no tomorrow and probably drink a little too! There will be love and laughter, gratitude and real affection.
I will have myself a Merry little Christmas now.