Christmas around here is both quiet and busy. Quiet because it is more or less just Jordon, Lee, Mark, Oliver, and I that make up the family but busy because we often spend Christmas Day with the Reimers and this year we are having our friend Micheala and her daughter Taylah join us. It’s also busy because of the whirlwind of activity that surrounds The Salvation Army in Saskatoon at Christmas and all of the events, parties, tasks, and work that it entails to make that happen.
This year is going to be different in that I have Christmas Eve off work. It’s the first time that has ever happened. I am working on Boxing Day but I volunteered for that so don’t feel sorry for me (and there isn’t any need for Argentina to cry for me either). I still have two full days off work which is better than the usual, “close the store on Christmas Eve and open it at 6:30 a.m. on Boxing Day”. We have a full Christmas break of activities planned which is enhanced by Lee having a couple of weeks off work as Flexicoil CNH New Holland has their annual Christmas shut down (which seems nicer than saying, company wide layoffs. While the weather is a big determining factor in deciding what we will or will not do, one thing that we plan to do is to take Oliver to the Enchanted Forest this year. It’s been a couple of years since we went and it will fun to take it in again. We plan to take in some movies and rent a bunch of others. Depending on the weather we are going to do some tobogganing and snowboarding over the break.
Lee has persuaded us to ditch the traditional Christmas Eve meal for lasagna (I think he even hired a lobbying firm). Jordon has acquiesced on the condition that we have a nice caesar salad and some bandera pizza bread as an appetizer. Since we open presents on Christmas Eve, Jordon is concerned that it will take us too long to eat (and therefore delay opening presents). His solution is to give us all two forks to eat with. The list could grow and now all I need to figure out is what to do for dessert. Maybe an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen. It should be an enjoyable evening.
It is a different family Christmas than what I grew up with. For the last 11 years, family Christmases have not included anyone from my family for a bunch of reasons, mainly related to the fact that we no longer talk with each other. The impact has been that instead of sharing our family traditions with Jordon and the boys, I have adopted the Cooper family traditions. While many people would want family around at Christmas, it wasn’t a big deal for us a family growing up. Christmas in Guyana was a lot different than in Brandon and so it was a bit of adjustment (what’s this 10 feet of white cold powder on the ground?) but the main thing was that my dad really hated Christmas and the holiday season. He had his reasons (they revolved around the giving and receiving of gifts) but it did set a negative tone for everyone else. Christmas was something to be endured or gotten through rather than celebrating and enjoying ourselves. As the family grew and changed, it brought it’s own challenges, mainly waiting for hours for other members of the family to get there while the Christmas dinner got cold and overcooked. There excuse was they needed their own family traditions which apparently included being really, really late for meals on Christmas day. Later on Christmas day was spent making unanswered calls/waiting for a call from family which added a different kind of feel for the day. Low expectations were set for Christmas and we kind of met them.
Jordon’s family had different expectations for Christmas. Jordon grew up below the poverty line but the expectation was that it was a great day. While there wasn’t a lot of toys under the tree, there was a crokinole board out, a wonderful Christmas village, and a lot of Christmas fun. When Jordon and I were married, we knew we would have one Christmas as a family with Marion. I invited my family to spend our first Christmas together but the low expectations and effort from my family won out the day. They had their excuses for why they could not come out and so after spending Christmas morning with Marion and Jordon’s family, we drove the eight hours to Brandon. There my mother mocked the gifts Jordon’s mom gave us, somehow ignoring that Marion was dying of brain cancer and then I found out they lied to us about why they couldn’t come out. It showed a side of my family that I had never seen before and it kind of set the tone for years to come. On the way home, I think I yelled and ranted until I was on the Saskatchewan side of the border.
The next spring Marion had died and that fall we had bought a new house. Instead of staying in our guest room, my parents insisted in staying in a hotel room because they didn’t want to stay with us (umm thanks). They were around but all they did was complain that there wasn’t anything to do on Christmas Day and left early to go back to Brandon. I am not sure what they were looking for, maybe the malls and stores open on Christmas Day in Brandon but around here, there is just family time. It had been a horrible year for us a family and they spent the day complaining about how bored they were while waiting for a phone call from my brother that never came for the third year in a row on Christmas Day. For me, by the time they had left, I was both really disappointed in how they acted. That was the last Christmas we ever spent together. We haven’t even had a conversation on Christmas Day since then (for years they sent me a token generic Christmas card).
Everyone always asks me how we handle Christmas without any communication with my family. It’s a good question.
First of all, we have a nice Christmas ritual that has grown, changed, and evolved over the years. Up until two years ago, we always opened up our gifts on Christmas Day. Lee would come over early in the morning, we would set out the stockings, and open those. After that, one of us would sit down in front of the tree and hand out gifts. There would be paper and stuff everywhere and then we would generally set up some of the toys for Mark once the chaos was under control. If we were going over to the Reimers, they would tell us to be there by a certain time. More times than not, we would get a phone call telling us to come over earlier (somehow time slows down on Christmas Day and things get done in less time than you imagine) and we would head over there after a stop or two. We would stop for batteries (who has 9 volt batteries around the house any longer), or exchange some gifts or a bottle of wine with some friends we were not able to connect with in the lead up before Christmas. Once at the Reimers, we would first be given some strong coffee. Jordon and Gloria drink some of the strongest coffee I have ever seen and I fear that Mark will be drinking with them this year (he started drinking coffee last Christmas Eve). After the coffee, the gifts are exchanged with them and whoever else will be joining us and then more coffee. These aren’t just any coffee cups that they drink from, they like whiskey barrel sized cups with handles. There is some eating, coffee, more eating, another round of coffee, the main meal, coffee, dessert, coffee, and to top the night off, another coffee. While some families drink too much alcohol and it leads to violence, Jordon and Gloria drink too much coffee and it leads to hearing loss for the rest of us. While the conversation is pleasant, it is just loud like this.
Jordon: “THANKS FOR HAVING US OVER! IT WAS NICE”
Gloria: “IT WAS NICE. WHY IS EVERYONE ELSE SO QUIET. IS ANYTHING WRONG?”
Me: Maybe you both drank too much coffee and the rest of us are normal and winding down from the evening.
Jordon/Gloria: “NO THAT CAN’T BE IT. THE REST OF YOU MUST BE MESSED UP.”
They will deny it but that is almost certain to happen this year again and it’s really funny.
Since Oliver was born, we have opened up all of our gifts on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve, Mark goes to work with Jordon for the morning. The administrative part of the Salvation Army Community Services closes at noon but the kitchen and the Residential Services part stays open. Normally Jordon sticks around until 2:00 p.m. and just sits around, raids the kitchen, and chats with staff and the residents. One the way home they go for a men’s lunch at a local fast food place to take their edge off. By that time Lee is at our house and they pick Oliver up and head home. From 2:00 p.m. until I get home at 6:00 p.m., Lee badmouths me and jokingly tries to convince Jordon to let him open up the gifts before I get home since I am such a “horrible” person. I don’t get upset at it as Lee would turn on Jordon if he stood between him and opening presents. When I get home at 6:00 p.m., I join in on the fun and try to persuade him to open the presents before supper. With me not working on the 24th this year, Lee is coming over on the 23rd and plans to badmouth me to keep the tradition intact. On the 24th, Lee and I badmouth Jordon while he is at work . Dinner on Christmas Eve has traditionally been pizza. For years it was homemade but last year we had the bright idea to get it from Papa John’s, a decision no one disagreed with. By the time the pizza is done, Lee, Mark and I have just about driven Jordon to distraction and the gifts get handed out and played with throughout the night.
Christmas Day is dependent on if we get together with the Reimers or friends (or both). Whatever happens part of the day is spent putting stuff together and playing games. We are already planning a rematch of the Thanksgiving Day Monopoly debacle where Lee just destroyed us (after Mark sold us out). Since all of us are sore losers, there is a good chance that a lot of Monopoly will be played over the holidays.
I keep being asked if I miss my parents and family during the holiday season. I would be lying if I said no. It’s a time for family and we don’t have many around here. Yet at the same time, this is what my parents walked away from and when they were around early versions of it, they never seemed to enjoy it at all. I guess it’s the same reason why they don’t know the boys or haven’t been the cabin. Nine years ago my father invited himself over and against my better judgement I said yes, he saw Mark for the first time and then declared he didn’t want a relationship with Jordon, myself or Mark. I am assuming he didn’t hate Mark yet but he said he had two other grandkids and that was enough. Nine years later, he has never backed away from his statements so I assume he got what he wanted and avoided the horror of being around his daughter and grandkids at Christmas. I hope it was worth it.
So I guess the answer is that I mourn the loss of having family around during this time but I don’t really miss having my family around and the stress and pain that it used to cause. On the flipside of that, those that spend we spend Christmas with those who we want to spend Christmas with us and that makes the season a lot of fun. Lee has been planning Christmas break since November. Jordon and I have been planning it since September. We have friends booked in here and we are all booked in at Reimers. Micheala has been planning to come over since Thanksgiving. When everyone wants to be together, it really does make the season wonderful and really stress free.
I feel bad for my parents because of what they are missing out on and they are missing out on two of the greatest grandkids in the world but at the same time, I am glad I really enjoy the friends that I have and the fact that those we do celebrate the season with really enjoy being together. Hopefully they have found some peace and joy amidst their Christmas season as well (and Jordon wisecracked, “have you ever wondered that maybe you are the problem?”). For me I don’t miss the stress of the season and have enjoyed the last ten years of good friends at Christmas.