"Mom, this is a special time. We need to be together, because the holidays are all about misery. And obligation."
- from Will and Grace
Maybe it's just me, but do you shudder with dread whenever the Christmas carols pipe up in October?
Do you sneer when you hear someone utter the words, "This is going to be the best Christmas- EVER!"
Do you dread the fact that only a shot of vodka and a Percocet will relax you enough to conquer that impenetrable wad of tangled mini lights?
Well I do. Or I did. Gawd, I just can't make up my mind about this Christmas thing.
It's a fact, there are Christmas people and non-Christmas people.
My loathing of Christmas came honestly. I grew up in a colourful household that tried, really tried, to embrace Christmas but with little success.
Of course my holiday memories started out well, because naturally Christmas is always better when you're a kid. You truly believed the Santa routine, were showered with presents and ate pretty much whatever you wanted. It was accepted as fact that an obese, happy man would appear at your house, squeeze down the chimney and fill the house with gifts.
You got a present from both Santa AND your parents.
And even when I knew that Santa wasn't real I pretended to believe in him still, just so I could continue getting two presents.
Sadly, the parents caught on. "Michele, give up the Santa schtick," my mom finally said. "You're breasts are bigger than mine. And no, you can't borrow the car."
So there I was, suddenly old and abandoned in a cruel Santaless world with my weird family.
My dad, interesting fact, was a part-time Anglican minister. For his full-time job, he was a hard-drinking, hard-swearing social worker. But, he was a great Reverend who was respected by his flock, probably because he was a tad more down to earth and funny than most.
However, it made for an interesting combination when he dragged us to his Christmas sermon. We, his children, would sit quietly in the pews, until he said something like "Strike thy foul language from thy mouths" and we would really lose it.
Trying to suppress hysterical laughter in a silent church was futile. Everyone swung around and whispered, "Aren't those his children?"
My father would stare at us over his glasses and send us a searing look that would finally shut us up. Good times!
In my teen years, things started to get out of hand. The brothers fought, often to the point where the police had to be called. My mother fretted because dad would insist on cooking the Christmas goose. He would purchase a huge bottle of Sommet Blanc and start preparing the feast. As he cooked he chanted, "One glass for me, one glass for the goose."
Then he'd start in on the "drinking and dialing," calling all the family friends while mom tried to keep dinner from drying out.
By midnight, dad was finally ready to sit down. But then, with the rest of the family hungry and pissed off, he would insist on taking pictures, completely oblivious to our state of mind. Later, when the shots were developed he'd look at our forced smiles, eyes glistening with anger and say, "What's wrong with everybody?"
When I was old enough I moved to Whistler, I think mainly to have an excuse NOT to spend Christmas at home. My sister moved away as well to Toronto. "To go to school," she said.
Oddly enough, Whistler is where I met my sane, second family. Things were definitely more fun when you could handpick who to spend the holidays with.
And there's another thing. Working Christmas in Whistler, you're usually just too busy to notice. When someone says "Happy Holiday!" it is for a laugh! What are holidays when we have double shifts, lineups and parking issues? If you get half of Christmas Day off you feel lucky.
For over a decade, that's what I got used to. I just kept my head down and got through it. Then I dated a guy who was a Christmas person. "What are you doing for Christmas?" he said.
"What do you think?" I'd answer, "Working, of course."
"Aren't you going to see your family?"
"You're a funny guy, aren't ya?"
He loved the fact that we went out and chopped our own trees down. He went off with a friend one day to get our tree.
"Make sure you go under the hydro lines!" I called after them as they set off.
He came back a few hours later, proudly showing me the tree he bagged.
"Did you go under the hydro lines?" I said.
"Well, you could see the hydro lines."
"But you weren't exactly under them."
"No, but there was this handy parking lot and a trail. It was really pretty in there"
I stopped asking questions because I didn't want to know the answer. But I'm pretty sure they chopped their trees down in the Interpretive Forest.
The next year he asked me to spend a few days with his sister's family in Kelowna. I really didn't want to go but he made me. More like kidnapped me. We drove through a treacherous snowstorm (yet another reason to dread the holidays - travelling at the worst possible time of the year when highways and airplanes are coated in ice) and barely made it alive. I staggered out of the car grumbling and stiff from clenching every muscle in my body for seven hours.
"It's official, I hate Christmas," I mumbled and shuffled towards the house.
Walking into his sister's home was like getting beamed onto the movie set of "It's a Wonderful Life." The air smelled like cinnamon, the house was festooned with homemade Christmas decorations, the children hugged us and seemed genuinely happy to see us. A glass of wine immediately appeared in my hand and plates of the most exquisite shortbread sat on every available surface. Under the Christmas tree there were wrapped presents, and one for me!
Now presents. This was a whole new concept. What family I had that remained on speaking terms one day decided not to shop for presents anymore. Christmas Day would go something like this. My mother would phone and say:
"Thanks for the present Michele, I just LOVE it!"
"Oh mom, I'm so glad! What did I get for you?"
"It's a darling little lamp I found on Granville Island. What did I get you?"
"Flashing sunglasses and a Godzilla costume! Thanks mom!"
Needless to say, this alternate reality Christmas in Kelowna was wonderful! Christmas morning the kids predictably got up, rushed around excitedly and dragged us out of bed. We gathered around the Christmas tree and opened presents. Presents that were wrapped, bought well in advance and pertinent for the recipient! Wow!
(My brother, in stark contrast, once came up from his room with a gumboot filled with unwrapped gifts. The gumboot was funny though.)
In the alternate reality, we went for walks in the snow and helped make turkey dinner at a reasonable hour. Before dinner, I called my mother and asked what I got her this year.
Dinner was served before midnight, the family chatted cheerily with no hint of animosity or weirdness. All was clear sailing. Frankly, it made me nervous. I went to bed still waiting for something to go sideways. It never did.
The next morning I called my mom.
"So, how did your Christmas dinner go?"
"When did the police have to be called?"
I am not making this up.
That alternate reality Christmas turned me around, I think. For years I didn't decorate (in fact a neighbour put a box of Christmas lights on my doorstep as a hint) but then I gradually found myself wanting to. The next year I got a tree and decorated it with Red Trojan condom packages because I still wanted people to laugh. Funnily enough my friends were just stunned that I had decorated at all and didn't notice what the decorations were made of. It totally ruins the effect when you have to point it out...
Then I created a character for the old Winterstart Festivals called the Festive Patrol where I decorate myself like a walking Christmas tree and admonish people to be more festive, make them sing carols and kiss under my "traveling mistletoe" wand.
Now if walking around Whistler Village when it's all decked out in its festive finery making people kiss doesn't get you in the spirit of things then you're, well, hopeless.
I'm even getting to the point where I know how to cheer up friends who get a little down on the Christmas thing.
A friend called the other day and said she'd been writing her Christmas cards and listening to carols. "It just makes me want to cry," she moaned. "This time of year always gets to me."
Helpfully, I said. "Well that's not hard to fix. Just put on some ACDC instead."
Apparently it worked!
I still have my cynical moments. My "Scrooge was Right" Party for instance, can seem a bit negative. It features a Pie the Carolers station, Elf Tossing, Untangle the Mini Light Relay and desperate gift wrapping (wrapping gifts with no tape, butt ends of wrapping paper and bandaids). But it's really fun!
It's taken a few years to get here, but our household decorates now in the Griswald family fashion, which means 'completely overboard.' We're even going to get a real live tree under the hydro lines today.
It just snowed 26 cm and Whistler, at Christmas, is truly the best place to be whether you like it or not.
You know, I think this is going to be the best Christmas. EVER!
Some Christmas Quotes:
Christmas in Whistler can go either way depending which side of the money you're on. If you're hitting the hill and then catching a super-extended apres at the GLC - listening to 45 rpm records and pounding 'nog with friends you haven't seen in a while - then Christmas up here is epic. But if you're a few thousand kilometres from your family for the first time, working the Christmas shift serving cold, raw fish to the heathens and then walking with eight per cent tips, then, yeah, Christmas in Whistler can really blow. It depends if you're spending money or making it.
I'd say that Christmas is not about sides, not about for or against. It's about depth. When the sun hangs low on the horizon for only a short part of the day, the earth seems to nearly stop turning and we all go deep into ourselves. And right then, as we plumb the depths of our subconscious we get together with family from near and far for extended evenings of food, drink and conversation. It's the perfect recipe for sparks to fly whether you have a fireplace or not. I love Christmas.
Monique Davidson (AbFab Pats)
Obviously, Sweetie Darling, the only upside to Christmas is the unabashed alcohol consumption!
Ace MacKay Smith
I call one of my auntie's "Auntie Christ." She loves it.
Anyway, I like eggnog and all the food and the pretty lights and the Charlie Brown Christmas special and the Grinch cartoon, but I absolutely hate the forced consumerism. If I see something or make something for someone because I'm really psyched at how much they're gonna love it then I'll do it, but not because I'm supposed to. There's nothing worse than a present that was bought last minute out of guilt. It's great 'cause my Mom and brothers are all on the same page. We have boycotted the guilt. We also think that it's the dumbest time of year to travel so we only get together if it's easy and safe driving. Our present to each other is the freedom from guilt. Ha! Last year I spent X-mas playing funk 45s with friends. Now that's a good X-mas. I also really like to ski powder on X-mas 'cause it's not very busy.
I love Christmas, especially living in a resort town where people come to "Christmas." Everybody wants to party, especially me, and it turns out I get paid more the more people party... talk about a win-win! The tradition of the "Alcoholiday" is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Love the family, friends and holiday cheer, but can't excited about commercialized reindeer. I hate the idea of cutting down trees or breaking the bank on shopping sprees. I do love the carols, the smells and the sounds, where love and peace and goodwill abounds - but why not act awesome all year 'round?!
In my many years in a resort town for the holidays I have only witnessed one thing... sell out consumerism. It's sad that such a huge weight has been put on Christmas in a commercial way. And unfortunately the pressures therein have brought Christmas to have some of highest rates of suicide and depression of the whole year... bummer! Just do something nice for your friends and family and don't believe the hype!
P.S. - Funny that Jesus wasn't even born on Dec. 25, it's just an old pagan ritual that the church hijacked and then the advertising firms followed suit.