Why I Stopped Caring about Creating the Perfect Christmas
It’s the not-so-perfect holiday memories that are the most treasured
When my kids were growing up, I always wanted to have the perfect Christmas. You know what I’m talking about — hot cocoa and cute pajamas; beautifully wrapped and arranged gifts on Christmas morning; the very best Christmas cookies that only happen once a year; and of course, the joyful tradition of decorating our Christmas tree. I tried my damnedest year after year, always trying to attain the unattainable.
Now that they are adults and can choose whether to come home for Christmas or not, I slip into crazy thoughts every once in a while. Did the memories we built make them want to come home? Would they miss our traditions if they didn’t come home? And even (gasp), did I make it “worth it?”
Full disclosure: I never achieved perfection according to my vision and standards. But of course, I am now old enough, and (most of the time) wise enough, to know that there is no such thing. Or is there?
When I was growing up, each year we kicked off our Christmas season with the annual trip to the tree farm. It was a day filled with the intentions to create a Norman Rockwell scene. I have to admit I loved this tradition. So when I was a freshman in college and with the Christmas season upon us, I knew I couldn’t miss tree trimming with my family. I was so excited as I packed my stuff and headed home for the big event.
The very first thing in the morning after I arrived, my father decided we needed to get an early start. That means he tried to get three teenagers out of bed at 7 AM on a Sunday morning. We all grumbled that we weren’t going anywhere that early. But, as usual, my father’s bellows won out over our grumbles. So within 15 minutes, we were in the car.
We’d been going to the same farm since we were little kids, but that never stopped us from getting lost. After some illegal U-turns and a lot of not-so-jolly language that would make Mrs. Claus blush, we arrived at the farm.
My sister and I decided to make the best of it and started to sing along with the carols playing over the PA system. My father, who decided to have some fun, too, gave us a little dance step in the middle of the very crowded tree farm. My mom, sister, and I thought it was hysterical to see my 250-pound father, who looked like he could star in The Godfather, leap through the air. My brother, on the other hand, was not amused. He was mortified when he saw everyone staring at us and immediately went to sit in the car. Down one, the rest of us went and picked out an $80 tree and $65 wreath (it was the 80s!!). My father paid the poor 15-year-old kid, who had to listen to how HE had some nerve to charge so much, and we headed home.
While my father and brother brought the tree in and got it in the stand, I searched for the Nat King Cole cassette (the season officially began with track 1 “Hark the Heralds” every year), put it in and cranked it up. My mother and sister untangled and tested the lights. As soon as the tree was upright, my brother declared, “The Giants’ game is on. I’m outta here.” My mother chased after him, yelling that if he left us again, he was no longer part of our family. That didn’t seem to bother him much as he settled into the couch and put on the game. Very loud, to compete with Nat.
There were now officially four of us left. My father was about to make his contribution to the tree trimming when my brother yelled, “Another touchdown. The Giants are losing by 13!” We had to hit the deck because in one swift move, my father turned and flung the star across the room. As it hit the wall, it crashed into a million pieces. My mother glared at him, then got up and went into the kitchen.
Two down, three to go. My sister and I, determined to soldier through, went to work trying to put the lights on while my father “supervised.” With just the two of us working, it took about an hour. We finally finished, and went to light it up. The whole middle of the tree was dark. Now I lost my temper.
“I thought you tested the lights!” I yelled. “Did you know they didn’t work?”
“Yeah,” she shot back. “I thought it’d be fun to put the lights up for an hour and not have them work.” She left.
It was just Dad and me. But not for long. My brother yelled, “Giants down by 20.” Nat King Cole kept singing while my father yelled, “Turn off those f*#@ing Christmas carols!”
With that, my mother came out of the kitchen, ricotta cheese up to her elbows, and screamed at my father, “You’re an animal!” He turned and stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him.
My mother went back to the kitchen. I was left, all alone, holding the box of ornaments. And Nat King Cole continued to sing, “Tis the Season to be Jolly!”
And no, the day did not end with all of the neighbors coming over to empty their pockets onto the table in the living room and an angel getting its wings. Instead that night, we sat silently at the dinner table eating our lasagna ( the reason for the ricotta up to my mother’s elbows) until finally someone said, “Well, this was a fun day.”
We all started cracking up, and laughed until soda came out of my sister’s nose.
I spent over 50 Christmases with my dad — I never missed one. Despite his hot Italian temper and all of his foibles, I’m so thankful for each and every one. This October marks the fourth anniversary of my dad’s passing. And I have to tell you, it’s still THAT Christmas that we all talk about. We literally laugh until we cry. I mean, seriously, who made the rule that your Christmas memories have to be like a Dickens scene to be perfect? Aren’t the scenes that defy that very logic, that make you laugh, and love all the crazy imperfections of your outrageous family, the perfect ones?
This year, my son, who is about to get married, let us know that he wouldn’t be spending Christmas with us and instead will head to his in-laws’. I have to admit with this news, I started slipping into the crazy zone. But then I thought of my dad. Life brings change. And just because traditions change, and new families and obligations happen, none of that has anything to do with whether or not we created the “perfect” Christmases for our families. Ones that make them want to come or keep them away. So this year, I just hope my kids remember our imperfect memories, chuckle, and have a Merry f*#@ing Christmas!