Sunday, December 25, 2005

Analysis of Holiday 2005: The Early Returns

With Christmas 2005 just passed and fresh in my mind, it is not too soon to take a quick look back at the holiday for a brief analysis. The leftovers are in the fridge, mostly at Mom's house. We brought just enough home to keep us from having to cook tomorrow.

I've never committed a review of a Christmas holiday to print before. It should be interesting to look back in a year to see if memory is kind or harsh when compared with the immediacy of review written within hours of the event.

We had a quiet and private Christmas morning, my hubby and I, with our 2 hounds. We rose at our leisure and had coffee before making our way to the tree to open our presents. Gifts this year were simple by choice. We have no desire for extravagance. My husband delighted me with his thoughtfulness, giving me gift certificates to Atlantic Books (aren't book shops a little slice of heaven?), a small stuffed bear, a Dachshund Puppies wall calendar, and a few other odds and ends. His gifts from me were even smaller because I had given some gifts early: an Eagles jacket (looks great on him, and he got to enjoy it before their ignominious fate was sealed) and this year's addition to an airplane ornament series we collect. This precious morning was by far the best part of the day.

Christmas dinner was at Mom's house. Mom is 81, and she no longer prepares the meal. My sister and I bring the food, and my brother contributes desserts. It is difficult to prepare food in Mom's limited kitchen, and it is difficult to shuttle complex dishes from home to her house. We opted for simple foods - a deli tray, meatballs, potato salad, etc. It was delicious, even if it wasn't exactly Martha Stewart. I miss the colorful and lavish Christmas celebrations of the past, yet I have no desire to recreate them. They are from a bygone era when people lived, ate, and thought quite differently.

We were a small group this year. Mom's gentleman friend passed away in 2004. This was her second Christmas without him, and she still feels the loss. I think she feels it more keenly because of her age, believing that she will not find another companion in this lifetime.

My oldest nephew was with us, whole and well, last Christmas. I remember him starting his truck (a Ford F350) to warm it up before he left for home. We all wish he had been driving that truck to work on the morning of January 4, so soon after Christmas day. It was in the shop, and he was driving a much older and smaller pickup on that day. I've blogged about this before, so most of you know about his accident. The good news is that he is able to walk a little bit now with the help of leg braces and a walker, though he is still largely dependent on his wheelchair. He did not join us today. He still struggles with outings, and he preferred to stay home today. He was missed, but he'll be back - I'm sure of it. I don't have reason to expect a full recovery for him at this time (although stem cell research offers hope), but I do expect significant improvements for him over time.

Our group today was made up of Mom, my sister, my second nephew (second in birth order, not in affection), my brother (who lost his wife to lung cancer in 2000), my brother's girlfriend, my hubby and me. The day started off well enough, but somehow it all went astray. Someone introduced a flawed memory of a past grievance into the conversation - something that has become habitual, and makes me dread family holidays. While the discussion did not devolve into an out an out argument, the tension was felt for the rest of the day. What a crazy dance it is, and I am weary and impatient with it. It's like a skipping record playing the same caustic line from an aggravating song over and over and over again.

The afternoon did not deteriorate into a free-for-all: no one said horrible things that will never be forgiven, no one yelled, no one cried. The evening ended well enough. Just the same, it was unpleasant and uncomfortable, and it left me with no desire to repeat the experience.

Every year in recent memory I have promised myself that next year will be the year I escape the hamster wheel. I'll see Williamsburg (a favorite spot) for Christmas, or take a cruise. I made the promise early this time around, declaring it in Mom's kitchen just after dinner. I told my husband that next year would definitely be the Year of the Christmas Cruise for us. I told him that we're going buy tickets right away, to keep us from changing our minds and making this mistake again next year.

I still don't know what it is about Christmas that brings out the worst in so many families. Maybe it's the impossibility of trying to recreate childhood idylls in adult lives. The lights, the colors, and the soundtrack of Christmas all become theater to adults, who are forced to leave the audience and work as stagehands. We try to create the spectacle and participate in it all at once, often with unsatisfactory results. Certainly there were undercurrents amongst the adults during those magnificent holidays of my childhood. But as a child I did not recognize much of the conflict, and I didn't have to dwell on any of it. It flowed past me and it was gone.

So I give today's overall holiday experience a lukewarm rating, with high marks going to the peaceful morning routine, and a less than stellar ranking for the remainder of the day. It wasn't an awful day, and some amount of conflict was to be anticipated. We'll see how memory stacks up against the written word after a year has passed, and we'll see if the hamster finally exits the wheel.


Karl said...

As unpleasant and uncomfortable as you may have felt after your gathering, it is these memories you will also cherish in the years' to come. I would say don't run off to some far away place for the holidays; continue to make memories with your family as long as you can. This is what you will remember in the future.

Merci said...

Thanks, Karl, for being a voice of reason. As I said, my Mom is 81. She's pretty much what has kept me here for the last few Christmases.

PaxRomano said...

I was thinking about you last night. I was in Mount Laurel at my sisters and I figured that you and the hub were not far away - maybe we should combine families next year! All that wacky dysfunction in one room; Not since Hiroshima!

Merci said...

What a good idea, Pax! Bet they'd all put on their best company manners for the first hour, at least.

I thought about you and Whatshisname as we drove through Utopia yesterday. Enjoy your time off!

Virginia Gal said...

Merci - happy to hear that your nephew is making progress - I complain about my life but I can't even imagine what he is going through.
As for the holidays, your post sounds so much like "Skipping Christmas" it is eery. Maybe your whole family could go on the cruise - you'd all be together but relaxing - others would be taking care of meals, cleaning etc and the lack of this stress might help everyone not to bring up bad memories etc. Just a thought...

Merci said...

Virginia Gal-
It's a great idea, but they won't go!

Well, I've got a year to come up with a new plan...