It’s normal to feel conflicted about Christmas, right? …Right?
To be honest, Xmas 2012 was a rough one for me. Not only was I just coming off my first four months on the road, but I’d heard while in Memphis that my principal client was closing down his business. And then you know what happened on my way through Yuma. By the time I got through the I-8 pass onto 15, I was entertaining panicked thoughts of bypassing the exit to my parents’ house and driving off into the dusk.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to come back, or see my family or my friends here in San Diego. It was that vortex of “will it work?” anxiety–a feeling similar to what I imagine it must be like to be engaged to someone who owes money to the mob–I was afraid that if I stopped, forces would conspire to not let me start again.
Last year, pretty much everyone in my family was in a state of transition–my sister was 8.5 months pregnant, my brother was a semester shy of graduating from college, my other sister and BIL were leaving the morning after Christmas for a big photo shoot in Los Angeles, and my parents? Well, they’d just come back from Uganda with a second round of children. (They like being parents–what can I tell you?)
As a result, I think we were all kind of looking to each other as a reference point, to be the steady frame for regaining our balance. That, in case you’ve never tried it, never works out terribly well. Especially when you’ve grown to expect your family to serve as that reference point, as I have.
So yeah, I’ve been a little leery of coming back to San Diego this year. In fact, all the closure I’ve had in the last few months made it even worse–I wondered if the forces were conspiring in earnest, this time. Right up until I tapped on the old homestead’s front door, I was kind of wishing I wasn’t there.
Then the door opened, and it seemed like things were going to be okay.
This year, we’re all a lot more settled, and I think that gives us a little more grace to give to each other. In particular, it gives me a new appreciation for the weirdness of my family’s Christmas.
And I don’t just mean picking oranges off the tree for breakfast. If you think that’s an off-beat winter tradition, read on.
To kick things off, my dad takes the first pair of boxer shorts he opens from his stocking (and there are always at least a couple pair) and wears them on his head for the remainder of the morning.
(To my knowledge, this is the only time these boxers are on his head.)
When stocking gifts are all opened, my mom bakes the cinnamon rolls that have been rising all night. Back in some far-off era, we helped her frost them…but these days, my new sisters and my niece take care of that, leaving the rest of us to do whatever it is adults do on Christmas morning.
We reconvene around the tree to open the presents under it. The rule is that we take turns–each person watches the one unwrapping, and waits their turn to find and unwrap their next gift.
I remember how hard this used to be when I observe the ways Rinah finds to occupy herself during the interim.
At this point, we move to making phone calls…or, in recent years, Face Time and Skype with the relatives in Michigan, Florida, Virginia and South Carolina. Those of us with heavy social media followings also take the opportunity of this lull to favor their 50,000 Instagram fans with a holiday update.
When everyone is fed, clean, and starting to get a little cabin-feverish, we get in the car and take our business to the Powerhouse Beach in Del Mar.
We’re certainly not the only San Diegans that have this as a tradition. The beach is full of strolling families and couples, wearing the standard Cali winter uniform of shorts and snow boots. This year, the collective tradition sprouted a new branch: the grassy bluff by the Powerhouse was rimmed with a silhouette like a string of paper cut-out dolls, made by the people lined up with their phones raised to IG the sunset.
That’s them; our particular take on the beach walk has always involved an elaborate pantomime of a father threatening to throw a daughter into the waves. This year, my brother-in-law assumed the mantle of tradition–guided by ancient instinct, I must assume, since nobody instructed him to do it.
And then we come back, and eat more food, and watch movies, and play with presents and with children until they fall asleep.
Christmas as a young adult was a dour affair–the pain, I suppose, of disconnecting from the wonder of surprise and unknowing anticipation and that wilful, lingering belief in a magical character whose only role was to bring you stuff you wanted.
My newly gained (and, I admit, tenuously preserved) sense of agency in my life appears to have finally found a replacement for the childish wonder. Now I feel a sense of wonder that we all like each other this much, and that we all hold the traditions (or at least the spirit behind them) in high enough regard to honor them, and that we’re healthy and happy enough in our own selves to be able to share with each other. I realize that not everybody has that; I realize it more keenly for not having had it myself, at the end of last year.
Family is kind of a wonder, one that I’m never not figuring out. Here’s to another year of working at it.