I used to really like Christmas. I don't anymore, but I used to.
Years ago, Christmas was for the kids. Nothing better than getting woken up at 4:00 a.m. by two wide-eyed little girls telling you that Santa came last night. You stumble out of bed and try to get some coffee going while they squeal, run around the tree grabbing presents, and try to figure out which one is for which girl.
Coffee in hand (the most important part of Christmas morning) you settle in your chair to watch the chaos of unwrapping the presents. They yell with delight as they discover each present, and then it's put aside and forgotten while they excitedly unwrap the next one … and the next one, until everything has finally been opened.
Everyone takes a giant, deep breath while we all survey what used to be our living room. It now looks like vandals have broken in and destroyed our home. I'm on my second cup of coffee and my wife has begun the process of cleaning up by throwing all the wrapping paper into a large plastic bag, which I can bring to the dump tomorrow.
When I was growing up, my mother would make us carefully unwrap each present so we could fold the paper and save it for next year. There was some paper I kept seeing for over a decade. Same deal with ribbons and bows. Gotta save them, because next year they may not be making them anymore, right? Actually, it was a cost saving measure; my mother is old Yankee stock, and I was always informed while growing up that we weren't cheap, we were thrifty. When I said that was the same thing, she gave me “that look” and said we were “careful with our money.” Okay, I get it.
Anyway, once the unwrapping extravaganza was finished and we'd all had something to eat, it was time to pack up the car, get the kids dressed, and begin the rounds of family that needed to be visited. This usually required three stops on Christmas day, and we'd run from house to house until everyone had been properly visited. We typically arrived back home around 10 or 11 o'clock at night, tumbled into bed, and dreamed of anything but sugarplums until late the next morning.
As the kids grew up, there was less and less magic at Christmas, and it became more of a Hallmark event. The only real tradition that remained was Christmas Eve dinner at my mother's house. That in itself was usually an adventure. My mother could do a lot of things, but gourmet cooking wasn't one of them. I remember one year she had read that the best way to cook a roast beef was to put it in the oven at 500 degrees for 15–20 minutes, and then turn the oven down to 250° for a few hours until it was done. Great idea. That wasn't what happened. Oh, the roast beef got into the oven at 500°, but when it came time to turn the temperature down, somehow the oven got turned off instead. By the time dinner was to be served, I cut into the meat and it was completely raw. Not cooked even a little, except for this nice crust on the outside. I saved dinner by cutting slices and cooking them a few at a time in the microwave. Not the best way to do it, but dinner was saved. Today I cook dinner at my house and bring it with me when I head out.
There was a time, after my wife and I separated, when Christmas was easy. My daughters were busy with their families and in-laws, and I was on my own for the holiday. Perfect! I got up around 9:30, pulled on some sweats, brushed my teeth but skipped the shower, made some coffee, and stuffed a small turkey with my favorite stuffing and shoved it in the oven. Put the coffee cup in the dishwasher and poured myself a Christmas portion of Jack Daniels over a little ice and turned on the TV for the Christmas Day football game. By the time my turkey was ready, my attitude had been properly adjusted. Another glass of Jack, and I could eat my favorite holiday meal in front of the TV without anyone complaining. More football, more Jack, and I was soundly asleep in my bed by 7:00. It hardly gets any better than that.
I now have grandchildren, so Christmas is back on; it's just less hectic. With everyone having obligations, we usually celebrate Christmas on a day other than the 25th, so Louise and I get to enjoy the grandchildren opening presents amid a limited amount of chaos. Then, after a nice family dinner, everyone goes home. I can have a quiet eggnog and little time to myself to think about what a very lucky man I am.
Maybe Christmas isn't so bad after all.