The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris is my favorite holiday chestnut. I grew up listening to an LP of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol my parents played on Christmas Eve, and that was wonderful during a certain age of innocence, but if you have been a harried parent at Christmas time, Santaland Diaries is its own reward.
In these days of more gendered equality both partners may feel responsible for making Christmas happen, but I know the burden fell on my mother, and then it fell on me. The rituals of decorating the house and Christmas tree, wrapping presents and hiding them and then making them magically appear, frosting Christmas cookies, preparing Christmas dinner — it was all very stressful pulling off this mini-pageant year after year.
We love it, of course, in retrospect. There was the year the cat climbed the Christmas tree and the tree fell, the year I didn’t check how crooked the trunk was, and the tree kept falling. I learned to tie the Christmas tree to a curtain rod, or position its lean into a corner.
There was the year my dear three-year-old ran to the front of the church during the Christmas pageant, and pointed and said “it’s baby Jesus!” and tried to lift the real live baby from the manger before the real live mother playing Mary snatched it to her shoulder. There were the fights in the back of the church when some parent handed out the shepherds’ crooks too early and the shepherds turned into Jedi warriors. Yes, we laugh now, but there were panicked interventions in the moment.
Ten years ago, or so, was the first holiday when neither son would be home at Christmas, and I didn’t plan to host the event. The other regulars at my Christmas table over the years never checked in with me. I was quietly furious, and then became a grateful guest at the table of friends who extended invitations as we were in that transitional stage of who is celebrating where. Many of us are figuring out what traditions we hang on to, and new ways to create a meaningful holiday.
Yesterday the choir I sing with, the Renegade Gospel Choir, had its first concert, an event titled “Hope Blossoms.” The concert was a rip-roaring good time – we are inter-generational, and the bass, guitar, and drums were played by college students, and a delightful mini-skirted young woman led the rap to a background of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” while others, old enough to be her grandmother (like me) sang back-up. I’ve always wanted to be a back-up singer to a good gospel/blues/R&B band – and now I am. The choir, and concert, was the right balance between old and new.
This year I will go to my son and daughter-in-law’s house, and it will be the first family Christmas in their home. A real live nativity is coming. The best Christmases might be yet to come.