the best and worst Christmases

Xmas-Garfield-TreeOur days-until-Christmas chain is almost gone. I’ve been looking forward to this Christmas very much — the celebrating, the presents, seeing friends and being generally festive. And I was thinking this morning about the best Christmases I can remember, and contrarily, because I’m a glass-half-empty kind of gal, about some of the worst.

We were really poor when I was growing up. Thanks to a father who’d decided he wasn’t responsible for the kids he’d had, nor was particularly worried about his nine-year-old daughter having a roof over her head, my mother struggled a lot. There were some years where it was hard for her to keep up with the bills and the groceries, let alone presents. I never felt like I went without, though, so lord only knows how she managed. I remember one year about a week before Christmas, when I was 11 or so, she gave me twenty dollars to shop for presents to give, of my own. She said, “For the person who loves Christmas and loves to give gifts more than anyone, you should have a chance to do that this year.” I don’t remember any of the gifts I received that year, but I remember that twenty bucks, and buying little trinkets for my family, feeling so thrilled. It was barely anything but it must have been hard for her to scrape that together for me, and it makes me sad thinking about that now. Was that one of the worst Christmases? I worry it was — for her. But for me, it was one of the best.

Norman Rockwell and a legion of retailers’ advertisements aside, some families fight during the holidays. It’s the heightened emotions, the gathering of people who often aren’t together, the complicated traveling plans that make you anxious. My family was no exception, and I can remember a few humdingers over the years. I mean, only once did someone throw a punch. 🙂 Some people have never experienced this, and I applaud your relatives’ self restraint and mastery of passive aggression. For most, it’s just the occasional rolled eyes and those awkward, mildly ugly moments. That kind of thing is worth overlooking. But in my opinion, when the words (or fists) get too harsh, though, it’s time to make different plans for the holidays.

There’ve been some really nice Christmases in there, too. The Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls was always so beautiful. I would go with family, later with friends; they stopped doing much on the US side, but the Canadian side still has amazing displays that Dave and I went to every year we could. My cousin and I used to go to Fort Erie, enjoy Chinese food at Happy Jack’s, then drive up the Canadian side to look at all the gorgeous houses and their decorations. Christmas concerts at school (once our chorus sang backup to Andy Williams on “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”; let’s just say Andy’s personality wasn’t very wonderful) and nice festive times shopping, meeting friends, having fun.

The nicest Christmas I remember was in 2002. Mom and I went to Wegmans to do our grocery shopping for the holidays, probably on the 20th or so, a few days before Christmas. While we were still working hard to make ends meet, things were a little better. We’d moved into a nice duplex a year or so before, we both had steady jobs and benefits. We had debt and we couldn’t afford a lot of luxuries, but we were okay. And we were looking forward to having a great Christmas feast at home (ham? roast? I don’t remember) with a yummy dessert for just the two of us. We were at the Wegmans on Alberta Drive and it was packed with holiday shoppers, but it was wonderful. Everything was decorated and festive, there was a band playing Christmas carols at the cafe, and everywhere you looked there were treats and tidbits and holiday concoctions, families getting ready for gatherings, everyone in a cheery mood. We shopped and lingered and later agreed it was the nicest thing ever, just being out in the holiday crowd, together, getting ready for our Christmas at home.

Right around now, everyone from your co-worker to the guy driving next to you with his bumper sticker to Linus wants to tell you what the true meaning of Christmas is, but I’m not going to jump on that bandwagon. Christmas is what you make of it, good or bad. It can be about your faith, about your family, about presents or egg nog or about the Grinch. My only advice is to spend it just the way you want to, and not the way you feel you should, unless those two coincide.

Merriest of merries, to one and all.