Taking a Break From the News
The last thing you want to wake up and see on Christmas morning, even more than a hunk of coal in your stocking, is the news. Let’s take a break, shall we?
I mean, I’ve been writing this column for seven Christmases now, and I think we know each other well enough to share a piece of coffee cake, or gingerbread pancakes and have these things be free of politics. (Are these pancakes GMO free? Is this maple syrup sustainably harvested from gay family-owned trees? Is this coffee cake made with fair trade coffee? Let’s leave these questions behind for a while.)
For a few of us, Christmas is something to get through rather than the grand sparkly destination it seemed to be when we were children. Remember how long the month of December was when you were 9? It took forever! Time has a strange arc to it when you’re young. Think about how quickly the last four years have passed versus how long it took to get through high school.
I grew up in a cabin with a cellar room. I would always lose hide-and-go-seek with my sister because she was brave enough to go in that room at the far end of the basement. In there was a box of sand full of carrots, because that’s how you keep them over the winter, potatoes, rows of jars of canned things, and a punch bowl with fancy matching glass cups and a ladle. Oh, it was a big time when the sherbert came out of the freezer to float in that punch bowl.
My mom felt pretty safe hiding gifts in that cellar room. My sister wasn’t going to look for them, and I wouldn’t go in there. I couldn’t stand the suspense of not knowing what was going to happen on Christmas morning. I was young enough to still think there were only two kinds of people in this world: those who opened their Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve – and those who opened them Christmas Morning (as God intended).
I found the stash. Oh, heaven help me, I found it and I was even worse off than before with my curiosity – mom had already wrapped them. She was so good, she had figured out not to label any of the gifts. Oh, no. She bought three kinds of wrapping paper – one for each of us. I had to either unwrap and rewrap all of them or none of them.
I’m pretty sure, at that point in my life, it was my greatest test. It went on for a few days. That looming scary room full of magical presents and probably a large family of shrews was all I could think about. The test? I failed. I managed to rewrap the surprises – and I felt horrible.
Christmas Eve was a miserable time. It should have been fantastic! The punch bowl was out! I had a tiny crystal cup with sherbet glaciers! We had Cornish game hens – one for each of us! Cloth napkins! My mom had on her Christmas plaid skirt that went to the floor and we all had matching dresses for Candlelight Service.
I played “Oh, Holy Night” on the church piano and prayed for forgiveness for messing up Jesus’ birthday. I’d made my own punishment. The next morning I wanted to stay in the bed with covers over my head. No one was allowed to open any gifts until we were all up and ready.
My mom made coffee cakes that were braided and shaped like candy canes with maraschino cherries cut to look like holly berries. She made about 10 of them and we’d deliver them to our friends and neighbors and we all had the same breakfast in different houses.
I confessed later to my family. They knew I had made my own misery. It’s now a joke, “I got you a present, want me to just tell you what it is, Shanny? Do I even need to wrap it?” Very funny.
I’m feeling pretty good this year because I can finally say “Merry Christmas” again. What a huge relief! After all these years of having to merely suggest happiness for your holidays, I can truly feel like I’m celebrating the birth of a Middle Eastern, brown-skinned refugee born to a teenage mom.
Sorry. You were holding up your end of the bargain so well about not getting political this Christmas Day, and I’ve gone and blown it. Sort of like that Christmas so many years ago. I’ll try to do better.
I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy Everything.