Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Happy Holi-frays

“Ah, do we have to go? Can’t we just have Christmas at home?”

As a kid, I hated the idea of rushing Christmas morning so we could get to the big family gathering at a relative’s house far away from everything Santa brought. I didn’t want to take a bath and get all dressed up and put on a show of manners. My siblings and I dreamed of sitting around in our PJs, stuffing our faces with Mom’s homemade fudge and swimming in our toys.

Those big family Christmas gatherings were always chaotic. You could count on work, work and no fun -- we’d have to help set up holiday games that were too complicated to actually enjoy, prepare and serve food that was more than enough to feed an automobile shredder, and we couldn’t go home until everything was cleaner than when we arrived.

There was always complaining and arguing, and even though we knew what was to be expected each year, everyone showed up, whether in good spirits or sick with the flu. We kids were less than thrilled with the idea of gathering every Christmas. We had no say in the matter.

One year the group split. Jobs took some families far from home, and a big Christmas gathering was too difficult and too costly to coordinate. To us kids, the day was ours. No more rushing the morning to get to a big, chaotic Christmas dinner.

After a few years of Christmas to ourselves, we all felt something important missing. We longed for those big family gatherings. My relatives planned a reunion years in advance, and before I finished college, we got news of a long-awaited Christmas revival.

Everyone showed up. The old traditions were alive and well. My grandpa had his five daughters line up so he could present each with a single rose, we created new lyrics to familiar Christmas jingles, then performed them for the group, and there was, of course, the ritual of massive amounts of work.

My uncle always provided entertainment for the youth. During the golden age of non-electronic, kid-powered fun, we got bored easily and he’d amuse us with exercises to work our abs properly or ways to build a longer-lasting fire in the fireplace. I’ll never forget the latter demonstration. The resulting smoke pushed the family out of the house and into the cold night. It’s still common conversation at fire stations throughout Southern California.

Now my uncle was back with a fully automatic BB gun. And while the parents of the younger kids learning how to shoot a gun were less than happy with the day’s activity, I’d say it was a successful Christmas.

“We’ve gotta do this more often,” said one of my aunts.

Then the gifts came out. It was more like a birthday party for the toddlers. Most of us didn’t mind. Still, to the parents of the older offspring who got only a few gifts, it was an insult and reason to revitalize the complaining and the arguing of Christmases long past.

A few of us were stuck with the cleaning duties, which caused feuds between those working and those sitting.

“Why don’t you ask for help if you’re gonna get so upset?”

“Because I want the others to make an effort on their own.”

“We can’t all fit in the kitchen.”

“Why do you just assume that I’m upset?”

When we’d gone through all the holiday motions and the place was back to neat and orderly, we said our goodbyes -- not angry goodbyes, more like final goodbyes.

Years have passed and some relatives, unfortunately, have developed lifelong grudges. Some have left us for good. Never again did we all come together for Christmas. Luckily some of us still have the memories.

But now it’s time to create new memories. This year, the younger generation -- my generation -- is gathering for Christmas. We’ve planned a bunch of holiday games, enough food to feed three of those automobile shredders, and we should have plenty of work to keep us all together for good laughs, good times and maybe even a healthy argument or two the whole evening through. I eagerly await the chaos.

“Ah, do we have to go? Can’t we just have Christmas at home?”

My 10-year-old son is less than thrilled with the idea. Of course, he has no say in the matter.

-December 2013

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