I’ve been carrying around a secret since just before Thanksgiving. I’m pretty sure I didn’t share this secret with anyone, but I lost my car in a parking lot twice yesterday, can’t find my wedding ring, regularly lose my glasses, need a reminder to brush my teeth, and left my iPad at the local Barnes and Noble. So, it is completely possible that I have told everyone I know.
Here it is: I am beginning to hate Christmas.
Not a very popular stance, this hating Christmas thing, but I’ve been celebrating Christmas for more than half a century. I’m thinking that’s enough. Enough trying to find the perfect tree. Enough putting lights on said trees. Enough setting up artificial trees pre-strung with lights.
I don’t want to hear the same old crappy carols piped into every store I visit beginning the day after Halloween. If I see that “I’m going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to everyone because it’s fucking Christmas, asshole” meme one more time, I’m going to throw my menorah at someone.
I wanted nothing to do with decorating this year, either. I would have been content hanging the same old wreath on the front door that I’ve hung there for years and calling it a day. But I can’t. I have kids and if I don’t deck the halls (and family room, living room, dining room, front door, and powder room), Christmas will be ruined.
I remember when I learned that Christmas could be ruined. I was about six years old and had little patience for make-believe. I must have had suspicions that Santa was a fraud, else why would I just happen to be roaming around the basement, in the unfinished parts where I don’t remember ever playing before.
I found what I had subconsciously been looking for: Christmas in a box. A huge box, full of all the things we three kids had asked Santa to bring. The jig was up.
I ran to my mother, proclaiming what I’d found.
“What were you doing in the basement?” she asked.
“Um, I was, um, looking for the new sofa,” I said. She didn’t buy it.
She told me that, indeed, she and dad were Santa Claus but that I was not to tell my sister, otherwise, I would ruin her Christmas. “You’ve already ruined it for yourself,” she said.
Ruined. I had ruined Christmas. How? I wondered. My mom assured me that Christmas would still come and I would still get my presents. But I was not, under any circumstance, to ruin my sister’s Christmas or I’d find coal in my stocking. That, I believed. But I still wondered, if I was going to get presents as long as I zipped my lips, exactly how my Christmas was ruined.
I know now that it wasn’t my Christmas that was ruined, but my mother’s.
My mother loved Christmas and she wanted it perfect. Anything marred the day and Christmas was ruined. Getting a present she didn’t like, someone not liking a present she gave, anyone having a cold/hangover/terminal illness—all of these could and did ruin Christmas at one time or another.
It wasn’t only me that ruined Christmas. One year, my sister had the flu. She laid down for a nap after the present opening orgy, thereby ruining Christmas. Another year, my grandfather started dying just before Christmas. Even though he passed away in January, Christmas was ruined.
It became clear, as I got older, that just about anything could ruin Christmas, so Christmas preparations carried enough baggage to need a porter. We all worked hard to make the holiday perfect; no one wanted to be the one to ruin it.
My mom has been dead for more than five years now, but I still carry the dread of ruining Christmas in some deeply buried place that years of therapy have failed to reach. Every year I think I’ll get the decorations, the gifts, the food exactly right and Christmas will be perfect. Every year—big surprise!—I get more and more anxious the closer we come to December 25.
This year, coming just after my father’s death, Christmas is weighing more heavily than ever. I’m going through the motions, though. The tree is up with help from my daughter and, for the first time, my husband. I looped the stair rail with fresh pine garland, but it’s dried and crunchy already. I’m going to put the ceramic light-up village in its spot on top of the piano this weekend and maybe get a new wreath for the door. But I’m not doing it for myself; I’m doing it for my daughter, who still thinks it’s all magical.
I realize my father’s death is greatly coloring my attitude and I’m teetering dangerously close to depression. I miss my dad and missing him makes me miss my mom as well—incredibly impossible standards and all.
Last year, I ruined Christmas by getting an intestinal virus. I spent Christmas Eve in the bathroom, then Christmas morning in the ER. But by some miracle, it was one of the best Christmases ever. My father was well enough to leave the nursing home and lucid enough to know where he was. My niece was home from the Navy with her new husband . . . the one she eloped with . . . the one no one had met. He was charming. As far as I know, everyone loved their gifts. We even got to Skype my father’s girlfriend in Florida. Best of all? My son baked the Christmas ham.
Both of my parents are gone now; the standards are mine to establish. I’m setting my bar lower than my mother, though I hear a nagging little “tsk, tsk” echo in my brain. “Shush,” I’ll tell it. “Or you’ll ruin Christmas.”