Thanksgiving is this coming Monday, or so I am lead to believe. I don’t celebrate it, but it does mean the Christmas Coca-Cola ad is coming up, and that heralds the beginning of the festive season. Yesterday I cornered my boss and got the two days of that I need to go home for the Yule season. I have 6 days vacation, it will take me 12 hours to get to my folks house and 12 hours to get back to my apt. So I actually get 5 days really.
In any case I’ve been checking the tickets and will now tell you how much it is going to cost me $676/£426/€500/руб 20,777/¥56,080/34,290 (that’s in dollars, pounds, euros, rubles, yen and rupees), and you know what, for 6 days that is a horrifically bad deal. I realise Christmas is the expensive time of year, along with July, to travel in. BUT surely transport companies have figured out that if they lowered the cost they would make up for it by the number of people who would then travel for the holidays. maybe that’s false logic, and I’m kidding myself. Either way the festive season is shaping up to be a money burning experience.
I already told the story of my worst Christmas, so perhaps today I’ll just explain what it’s usually like in my family. I have never had a Christmas away from home. Christmas is the one time of year we all get together and prove to each other that we do not come from a broken home and that we all love each other (usually added by inordinate amounts of alcohol). The reason I’m telling you the following is reminiscent in my mind of a quote of Tolstoy’s in Anna Karenina “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
I’ll quickly breakdown for you why we need to tell ourselves we are not a broken family; my parents are still together after 27 years. I know how rare that is, so do they, they tick each other off, they bitch about each other to me (not to my siblings though- somehow I’m the head shrinker of the family). They constantly snap at each other, but if like me you’ve made the mistake of trying to use their dysfunction against them- woe betide you. They have each others back, to the death. I’ve tried playing them off against each other before, it ends with me getting in it deep, to the neck-deep. So, why the paranoia of dysfunction? Well, that’s where my brother and sister come into play.
Until My brother was 10, I was 8 and my sister was 5 my Dad was permanently travelling, we saw him every 3 weeks or so. My mom was left handling three kids solo in a foreign country where her accent hampered communication, big time. My brother was sent away because basically my Mom couldn’t control him. Having watched my Dad appear and disappear at will he realised that as the man of the house my Dad made us stop and pay attention, we celebrated his arrivals and departures, and when he was around he was the boss. My brother got it into his head that men ruled the roost, and that if he didn’t get the same treatment as my dad he was allowed to eff stuff up, kick the dog, and be a general jack-wang.He broke windows, beat me and my sister up, and generally became a disruptive, aggressive, misogynist by age 7. No joke! The only option was a high-end boarding school, which he chose. It worked. He he got nicer, less aggressive, and more reasonable. My parents felt immense guilt at sending him away and so every time he came home for holidays and weekends with us from kiddie school to middle school to high-school my parents asked him if he wanted to come home and study at a day school, and he refused every time. The he went to college. So basically we got my brother for the holidays. Until I moved in with him last year I had only ever seen him in a vacation setting. Which is still the only way my parents have ever seen him.
My sister and I are a different story. I’m the middle child, the attention seeker, the most opinionated and the trouble maker, I’m also the most reliable, selfish, and realistic. I admit to these freely, until I hit age 15 I lived at home, but due to several educational incidents that had the potential to spiral into legal action, at 15 I was sent to a co-ed boarding school an hours drive away from the closest civilian population. Most people get a little freaked out when I tell them that, truth is I didn’t like it, but it did build what people have referred to as character. My sister followed me to the same boarding school a year after I when there at age 13. Having lived with her my whole life we get along pretty well. I get her, and she gets me. But again my sister is one of those people who prefer being totally mute in the face of authority, which at age 13 she decided my parents were.
To add to this pair of stoic silent “holiday- only” kids (and me the loudmouth), we can add the two foster kids who my folks looked after for a year each (back when we were all teenagers). One is now a heavy drug user who has pretty much fallen off the edge of the earth and only turns up to ask for money for drugs, the other is a sergeant in the army in ordinance disposal with a steady girlfriend and a bright future ahead. You win some, you lose some. They don’t come for Christmas, and they don’t keep contact much.
Now we come to the last member of the family. This guy actually makes our Christmas complete. He is a friend of my Dads who suffered from multiple brain tumors and survived, but lost the use of his vision in one eye, hearing in one ear, sense of taste, and a lot of mobility. Also his ex-wife decided to leave him halfway through chemo, she’s never been great at timing. He has spent every Christmas with us for the last 14 years. Every year he makes a Christmas quiz for us to play, it consists of common knowledge, current events, and pop culture, and we get points awarded for correct answers, humour, and surrealism. We even have a trophy with names on it. It’s become a tradition so ingrained in my psyche that I read news articles and think “that’s going to be on the quiz for sure!”
All this to basically say, my Mom, Dad, surrogate Uncle figure, Brother, Sister, Me (and the damn cat) have our Christmas traditions. For us it’s the most important time of the year not because of the presents we hastily wrap in our rooms, or the gargantuan amount of alcohol we consume, ut because it’s the one time of year when we all get together. Corny as that might seem, our fear of being dysfunctional (which for the rest of the year we are) is what makes us so devoted to this Christian co-opted Pagan ritual.
So Happy Thanksgiving guys, start shopping for things that will be re-gifted now!!!