Earlier this week my wife Rachelle and I were invited over to a friend’s home for dinner. Before the meal, as a kind of a toast, each guest was asked to tell a Christmas remembrance from their lives. These are the stories that followed:
I think I was four years old and I wanted to be a superhero. I wanted to fly and shoot lasers out of my eyes. When I got up Christmas morning I found that Santa had given me a Superman costume, and I honestly thought that it was going to transform me into the super being I knew I was. It wasn’t a feeling of receiving, but of becoming. However, my speech was a little dodgy and I couldn’t properly say Superman, and was running around yelling “I’m Sewer Man!” instead. To this day, my dad still calls me Sewer Man.
My brother was younger than me by five years and he used to get crazy excited for Christmas. Practically hysterical. One year when he was about 9 he got up a 4:30 in the morning, I think, and unable to wait opened up all of his presents, and then opened up all of everybody else’s presents, too. And when the rest of us got up around 9:00 and came downstairs he was sitting there cross-legged by the tree, acting like he’d done us a favour and saved us the pain of unwrapping our gifts.
I remember going to the Farmer’s Market with my dad to buy a Christmas Tree. The trees were fifteen dollars. My Dad told the farmer he’d give him ten dollars. “Come on, man—” said the farmer, “—give me eleven.” “Can’t do it,” my Dad replied. We got the tree for ten. At the time I was proud of my Dad for bargaining (something my Mom never did) and getting a good deal. Later in life that memory gnawed at me. It wouldn’t have hurt my Dad to give that farmer an extra dollar. Who needed that money more, my Dad or the farmer? Where was my father’s Christmas Spirit?
I was 10 years old. The Christmas tree was merely a tiny prop behind towers of presents. My mother shopped throughout the year, collecting toys and sweaters she thought we might like, spoiling us Christmas. I suppose it was gluttonous, but I was 10 and it was a dream. I opened present after present, while my three sisters simultaneously ripped away at theirs. It was a traffic jam of bows and ribbons. And there it was. THAT box. It was 2 feet tall and about 1 foot wide. As I shredded the wrapping I started to scream, “THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!” Santa had brought me my very own Cabbage Patch Kid. Her name was Carol. She had blond hair in two braids, wore an orange windbreaker, blue jeans and a pair of sneakers. You know that YouTube video of the young girl sitting in her classroom when her father surprises her with a visit, having just returned home from deployment in Iraq? It was like that.
It was the first year I returned to my parent’s house for Christmas after being away at university. I was really excited to see all my old friends from high school who were also coming back from their college experiences, and after a few months of big ideas and life on my own in Montreal, I felt pretty grown-up, maybe even superior to the smaller world I’d inhabited in Ottawa. I wanted to show-off my worldliness, but when I opened the front door to my parents, I was immediately struck by the scent of a prime rib of beef roasting in the oven and it was so unexpectedly familiar, so generous and safe, that I knew right then where home was, and always would be.
I’m Jewish so Christmas is a non-event, but one year I decided it would be fun to celebrate the birthday of somebody other than Jesus on the 25th. Actress Sissy Spacek was born on that day, so I started throwing a “Sissmas” party where I invite over a bunch of people and we have dinner, get drunk and watch a Spacek movie. It’s been going strong for seven years now.
My grandmother was always the centre of Christmas. Every year all of my cousins would come and we’d all stay at her house. It was a tradition to go to the zoo and I’d look forward to it all year long, even more than the presents. I remember one year being at the zoo and eating soft ice cream, using one of those cheap, little wooden spoons and just feeling so happy, having the warmest sense of family. After my grandmother died it was never the same.
In Grade 1, I got to be “the” Mary in the Christmas recital. The acting skills needed were: owning a blue nightie and smiling beatifically while the other kids sang “Away in a Manger. I practiced the smile for a few days, gazing mildly into middle distance. After the recital, I overheard a grownup congratulating my parents on what a convincing Mary I was, so I beamed extra serenely at my child, Jesus, a naked doll lying on a desk across the classroom.
One of my favourite Christmas moments, kind of like Michael’s, was coming home after being away at university. When I returned, instead of being greeted by the smell of food cooking, our family dog Dakota jumped all over me. He couldn’t have been happier to see me. He was barking, squeaking and spinning and couldn’t stop licking my face, and I just burst into tears, the entire family hugging in the doorway.
My parents didn’t get along and one year at Christmas dinner they began to bicker over something stupid, whether we were all wearing our paper hats or something. My mother, who was normally a rather proper WASP, just lost it and for the first time in her life used the word “fuck,” calling my dad, “A real fuck, that’s what you are, a fuck!” Her eyes were bulging and she was completely empowered, throwing the word around out of context for the next couple of minutes. The rest of us were silent, trying to repress laughter. When my mother returned from the kitchen after this scene had petered out, we all pretended that nothing had happened, just like we always did.
One Xmas, as a single mum with very little money, I did my best to get presents for my three-year-old daughter. I made some fun stuff out of cardboard boxes. That kind of thing. On Christmas morning, she was opening her gifts when I realized that there was nothing for me under the tree and that seemed conspicuous and that she would notice this eventually, so I snuck upstairs and wrapped the very perfunctory underwear I’d gotten for myself a few days earlier. Then whipped back down, slipped ‘er under the tree and opened this present with great enthusiasm. Thanks Santa!
I was away at school in Halifax and things were going wrong for all sorts of reasons. I desperately wanted to get home to Toronto for Christmas but my flight was canceled due to shitty weather and I was stranded in the airport and couldn’t make it home for the 25th. I called home Christmas morning from a pay phone in the airport and my mother described for me every single thing that was happening, both of us crying like babies. It was so sad, but so beautiful, too.