Sunday, December 24, 2006

...And So This is Christmas...

Not quite, but it's officially Christmas weekend. Christmas is a very odd time for me, as I'm sure it is for most people. I associate so many good and bad memories to this day, that I'm never sure from one year to the next which memories will win out.

The bigger deal here, is that it's Brandon's first Christmas. Not for him, of course, his main goal will be drooling over as many gifts as possible, but for my wife and me, it's very symbolic. This is where we officially start creating our own family traditions, and charting our own course as parents.

As I grew up, Christmas went from being a magical time, to stressful, to a hassle, to downright depressing, culminating with the year where I spent the holiday with my terminally ill mother and her 24-hour nursing care, while my dad was away visiting his family. While I was there, we were literally buried in snow, receiving a solid foot of snow a day for a week. Because our home was an official workplace for the nurses, I had to keep the driveway and walk cleared at all times because of health and safety issues, which meant 12 hours a day of shovelling, and 6 months of back pain after the fact. And when I wasn't outside shovelling, I was cooking, cleaning, and waiting on everyone hand and foot.

Most of the nurses viewed me as little more than a hassle in the house, and I really didn't feel comfortable being there on my own. It was like being a guest in some absurd mausoleum where the enterred are still alive. I totally understand why my dad often felt that he was a stranger in his own home, as the nurses had made it theirs. To top it off, the majority of them were utterly incompetent, and I seemed to have more knowledge of general first aid and patient care than they did.

To top it off, I had pulled the plug on my relationship with my mother many years previous. To me, unfair or not, she and her illness grew to symbolize all of the weakness I saw within myself, weakness that I sought to eradicate at all cost. Too sensitive, too self-absorbed, too weak, too naive, too easily pushed around, too easily defeated. The ultimate blows to the relationship were her hypocrisy in thinking less of me for turning my back on religion, and her leaving my father for the second time (a further display of hypocrisy). Even in the best of times, her holier-than-thou attitude grated on me, and I used to revel in throwing stones through her glass house, but her disease had progressed to the point where she was just a morbid caricature of herself, somehow amplifying her weaknesses while completely burying her strengths. Coupled with our strained relationship at the best of times, it just got to the point where there was nothing left to love, and I couldn't even bring myself to be upset about it.

I still wonder if there was something I could have done differently, something that I could have done to salvage things while still evolving into a reasonable facsimile of the person I am today. There is no doubt that I am completely happy and satisfied with who I am today, but it makes me sad that I had to amputate the emotional connection to my mother to grow in the way that I have. It just doesn't seem natural, and many of my relationships with other family members have grown needlessly complicated as a result.

Christmas always brings me back to this. The nights half-heartedly putting up a tree, the days opening afterthought gifts, the fake and materialistic absurdity of it all. But then...

That Christmas that I spent buried under an avalanche and a heavy heart was also the first Christmas that my future wife spent with me. Even though I warned her what to expect, she still agreed to come with me, and help me out as best she could, all this despite the fact we had only dated a couple of months. And she didn't get scared off. If anything, our relationship grew stronger. And we made a pact that when we got our way, Christmas would be a real celebration again. Not all about presents, but being together with loved ones, and celebrating those relationships. Every year, we've gotten a bit better. More decorations, better suppers, bigger parties, more charitable donations.

I must admit, I'm still lagging behind a bit in the whole Christmas celebrating. I just can't get into it yet. But I'm getting better. Brandon's arrival couldn't have come at a better time, as the firstborn of his generation, he's had a unifying effect on our family, and as he grows up and learns about Santa Claus and all the traditions that come with Christmas, I'll be able to restore some of the magic in my own heart.

So, I guess my message is that Christmas is a time where you're supposed to come together as family and friends, and put to rest all the petty shit that taints your relationships, at least during the holidays. Enjoy a good meal, let the people around you know that you love them, and just relax and have fun. Don't worry that your new tie doesn't match any of your suits, or that you don't know what you'll do with four more sets of candleholders. It isn't about the gifts, anyway.


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