Friday, December 23, 2011

Have a Good Christmas

     It’s finally quiet in the house.  Buttercup is fast asleep and The Yankee went to bed early claiming some sort of middle-aged ailment.  (From the blue light I see flickering under the door, I know he’s really watching that science fiction show that makes my eyes quiver and my teeth itch.)  I’m sitting on the couch, watching the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree, listening to Bing Crosby on the stereo.  I open an e-mail and see that someone wishes me, “Have a good Christmas”.  In my current state of quiet reflection, that phrase strikes me in an unusual way. 

     What makes a “good” Christmas?

     I’ve been hearing, “Christmas is so commercial” since I was a little kid.  Christmas trees go up for sale before Thanksgiving is even here.  Wrapping paper is on the half-off clearance table by December 10th.  By December 18th, the Christmas ornaments and wreaths are being cleared out to make room for pool chemicals and beach towels.  I’ve often imagined some poor woman opening her gift from her procrastinating husband, finding a pair of flip flops and a bottle of sunblock and looking at him with a questioning frown.  “You waited until the last minute again, didn’t you.”  He’ll look sheepishly at her at say, “But it’s SPF 45!”  (But don’t be too hard on my poor dad.)

     I hear of people setting aside a $5,000 budget for their Christmas celebrations and it sends shockwaves through my heart.  I don’t spend $5,000 on my entire family, all my friends, my coworkers, and the Christmas dinner spread out over 5 years!  I’ve had friends who received cars and diamonds from their husbands and tried not to sneer when I happily showed them my new loaf pan I got from The Yankee.  My girlfriends threatened to send a posse after him when I received a box of kitchen items on our first Christmas.  I threw my hands up and yelled, “But I gave him a list and he actually listened to me!  How many of you can say the same for your husbands, huh?!  Some people paint, some people shop, I cook.  You should know that by now!”  They called off the posse, but they thought I was weirder than ever. 

     I think back to the Christmases of my childhood and the years we spent with practically nothing.  The year I was 16, I got a CD and a discounted, framed picture from the clearance bin to go in my hope chest.  Our Christmas dinner was a small, roasted chicken and a few side items from a food pantry.  We watched Christmas movies on our old VHS player and drank hot chocolate.  From what I remember, THAT was a good Christmas.  Our gifts were meager, our dinner was less than a feast, and our entertainment was lame by many accounts, but it was a warm environment.  I think the reason was that we loved each other.  And no, I don’t mean in that cheesy, Hollywood way where too skinny, too wealthy, too beautiful people solve their problems by the end of the script.  I mean people who truly care about the welfare and happiness of another individual.  Our circumstances were uncertain and our future was a question mark, but for that day, for those precious hours, we had each other.       

     I think about the Christmas when Buttercup was a toddler.  We had just moved into our first house three days before Christmas and she was not feeling well.  While we unpacked boxes and tried to make the house look more like a home than a war zone, she looked worse and worse.  Finally, her lips blue and her breathing shallow, we rushed her to the emergency room where she was admitted for pneumonia.  A phone call later that evening revealed that The Yankee’s uncle had died during Christmas dinner.  Our checking account was overdrawn, my parents had the flu, and our insurance company was asking if it was really necessary for a 4 year old to receive so much oxygen for a little bout of pneumonia.  Needless to say, there was no Christmas tree, no gifts, and not a smile to be seen, and yet, it still was not a bad Christmas.  This particular hospital has some surprisingly astute and kind nurses, a doctor whose opinion of himself was not of deity proportions, and a benevolent soul brought gifts to the children in the pediatric unit.  The Yankee managed to smuggle a tiny bottle of bourbon into the room, poured it into tiny paper cups he pilfered from the water cooler, and we drank a toast to health and love by the light of Buttercup’s oxygen monitor as she peacefully slept for the first time in days.  We had survived, we had managed to support each other, and we refused to forget it was Christmas. 

     Many Christmases have come and gone since those years that I was an impoverished teenager and a worried mother in a hospital unit.  The Yankee and I have been granted the health and love we toasted so long ago.  Each Christmas is a reminder of the love of family, the loyalty of friends, and the true meaning of a Gift so perfect even a stable couldn’t tarnish His glow. 

     Have a good Christmas?  Oh, I will. 
© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

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