It was right after Halloween.
My 19-year-old son and I were sitting in the Nissan in a parking lot, bored, waiting for my wife and daughter to come out of the store. I started playing with the radio.
“Christmas!” Darlene Love cried through the speakers, bringing with her memories of watching Goodfellas. She was singing “Christmas (Baby please come home).”
It was like that first whiff of frost in your nostrils.
“They’re already playing Christmas music,” I marveled.
Shouldn’t be surprised, really. They start stocking the shelves with holiday candy the day after Halloween.
“That’s fine,” Wesley said. “I accept it.”
I had to smile and chuckle at his reaction. This is the kid who almost always likes the movie. “I like liking things,” he tells me.
He hasn’t had 22 years in the newspaper business to make him a grump like his old man.
The song was actually a nice break. For days I had been listening to NPR in the car, watching that new show on television, “People Shouting at Maps,” in the fallout from the election. That wonderful 20th-century enthusiasm for Christmas was just the thing, really. Time to move on to the next season. Turn, turn, turn . . .
I’ve always loved the holidays. When I was growing up, it transformed the house. My parents would grumble at each other putting up the tree with its shedding tinsel, multicolored flashing star, and Dad’s beloved bubble lights.
The packages would show up wrapped under there and distract my every waking thought for weeks. Mom always shopped way ahead.
When I was a kid, eggnog didn’t come from the store. We dined like royalty, prayed for those who couldn’t enjoy what we had, and invited over my crazy uncles.
You look back more on the little things, I think, than the big.
One of my fond memories, oddly enough, comes from a time when I was a teenager, probably a little too cool for my family. It was around the time Elmo & Patsy’s “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” started being played on MTV[MB1] and gained popularity among my generation.
Mom and Dad wanted to go for a drive to look at the lights on the houses. My grandmother was with us, and we all sat in the car listening to holiday music on the radio, seeking out the best displays.
We drove around Hampden and some of the better streets in Bangor. We probably rolled past Stephen King’s house, though I don’t remember it in particular.
The car, which so often drives families to conflict, was nice for a change. It was cozy and close. No one from school was there to see me, so there was no need to play it cool. I could let on that I liked my family.
My grandmother was not run over by a reindeer, but she thought the song was pretty funny.
It’s different for everyone. People have different traditions, different faiths. I have found there is a lot of variety in the way people do Christmas. Are you a ripper, or do you neatly unwrap your gifts and save the paper? Do you open everything in one big rush, or do you drag the event out all day? Real tree or fake tree? Charlie Brown or the Grinch? Which of the three Grinches? Which of the umpteen Christmas Carol movies?
My wife has informed me that tinsel will enter our home over her dead body. It is still unclear to me why her position on this is so strong.
When you get married your traditions have to evolve to include your wife’s rituals.
For the past several years, the kids and I have had our own tradition of making a card for my wife, Christine. One year it had a picture of all of us with our hands on our butts. Inside joke. The next year, since she was always saying “Scrub your buns” to someone who needed a shower, we had pictures of us scrubbing the seeds off sesame buns with brushes. Last year, scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas, I seized on this thing about Christmas plums.
There is a joke in a puppet show version of the Grinch that says, “Merry Christmas, here’s a plum!”
We all went into the grocery store together, three of us, and asked the lady, who was talking to a group of trainees, “Do you have a plum?”
It turned out that she didn’t, so we just left. I can only imagine what she and the trainees thought about the plum-seeking trio. Probably, they assumed we were aliens pretending to be human, planning an intergalactic orchard. The obvious.
Turns out, you can’t buy a fresh plum in Rockland, Maine, a few days before Christmas. (There’s the gauntlet, dear reader). So, we settled for a picture of the bunch of us holding a massive package of prunes. Merry Christmas, Christine.
What am I talking about? Have I lost the thread? Absolutely, I have.
My point is this, we all have our weird family traditions. They make sense only to us. But those little things—those little moments—make memories, and that’s the real goal.
Happy Holidays, and may you have a good year. (Can’t possibly be worse than the last, can it?)