My friend, Alex Bosworth, author of the book, Chip Chip Chaw < (highly recommend), read this story at my holiday party last night. I think it's got Classic Holiday Traditional story written all over it.
I wanted to share it with you:
It was Christmastime, 1981 and the decade had gotten off to a rotten start. Since it had begun, a Pope, a President and a Beatle had all been shot- my favorite of the group, fatally. I took the news of John Lennon’s death particularly hard and wore black for the longest time. Whenever my mother expressed concern over my gloomy wardrobe, my father would say, “It’s just a phase. He’ll be wearing colors in no time.”
That year, the family Christmas party was an obligatory event no one was looking forward to with anything remotely approaching glee. It was my parents’ turn to host the festivities and while thirty-six relatives were originally expected, the invitations my mother sent out stating clearly that no alcohol would be served or allowed on the premises narrowed the guest list down to fourteen, all of whom would be sober and none of whom could stand each other. Topping that list were both of my grandmothers and there was very bad blood there. My grandma Ruth claimed that my other grammy, Pearl had stolen her crystal gravy boat in 1968, while Pearl maintained that Ruth was "crazy as an outhouse rat."
Then there would be my cousin, Sharon, who had chosen that Thanksgiving to come out of the closet at the dinner table of my newly born-again Aunt Brenda who would also be in attendance. Add to the mix two paranoid right-wingers, three professionally bitter liberals, one reformed drug addict turned Mormon, a divorced couple considering reconciliation, a married couple considering separation, an old guy named Randal who showed up at every family event despite the fact that no one knew who he was, plus assorted children with as then undiagnosed anger issues and attention deficit disorders.
The event turned out, as we’d all expected, to be a seething cauldron of angst, stony silence and bitter recrimination garnished with fruitcake and tinsel. Soon after my Aunt Brenda arrived bearing a dozen mini copies of the New Testament as stocking stuffers, Sharon entered with a woman named Janice who my cousin announced to be her lover and anyone who didn’t like it could go straight to Hell. "Do not pass go. Do not collect $200." she said.
Brenda turned to my mother and asked what she was going to do about this. “I’m going to put the nutmeg next to the eggnog this year."
Mom said, "That way, those who don’t like it don’t have to have any and those who do can sprinkle on as much as they want.” Then she made her escape into the kitchen. Pearl and Ruth showed up at the same time, leading to an argument as to who the children had to kiss first. As various guests arrived, arguments began on subjects ranging from Nancy Reagan’s dinnerware to the eminent destruction of America by the onslaught of killer bees.
All the while, my father was under the tree, angrily attempting to rig the lights to flash in the exact syncopation simulated on the t.v. commercial.
This was an exciting annual event for the kids because, while doing this, Dad would invariably spew out an array replacement cuss words that sounded four times filthier than real ones.
And then, as I conspicuously moped in a corner, I noticed someone else enter the den. It was Jesus. He walked around the room, unnoticed. It was clearly him walking among the guests, brushing by one person then another, practically right in front of some. And yet, no one seemed the least bit aware of his presence. Of course, that’s how it always is during the holidays, everyone gets so wrapped up in their own soap opera, they can’t see beyond themselves. Besides, it was Christmas and who has time for Christ at a time like that? He smiled to see the children wrestling and acting silly. He extended a hand toward them, then turned in the direction of the dinner table, blessing the eggnog, the walnut brownies and the big bowl of Chex mix. Just then, my father accidentally put his hand into the water-filled tree stand. Unfortunately, he was kneeling on an exposed electrical wire at the time. There was a loud popping sound, the lights all dimmed and Dad was thrown against a wall where he collapsed, unconscious. Sharon’s girlfriend, a registered nurse, leaped from the couch and immediately began administering CPR as the family huddled around. Jesus calmly turned his hand in the direction of the calamity and a moment later, my father sat straight up. “Donder and Blitzen!” he shouted. Then, in response to the stunned faces surrounding him. "Those are the names of the reindeer I couldn’t remember. It means thunder and lightning in German. Thanks, Janice. I think I’m okay now."
While the others helped my father to his feet, I noticed Christ exiting the den door. I followed behind, calling out to him as he headed down the driveway. “Hey, um, I know it’s not really your birthday.” I said. “But isn’t there something I can do to make up for us being... you know... us?” He stopped for a moment and spoke before disappearing into the night.
“You could write a story with a happy ending. That would be nice.”
When I returned to the den, things had calmed down in there. The children played placidly on the floor. Ruth and Pearl were comparing pictures of their grandchildren. Sharon and Janice were cuddled up on the couch in front of the fire. Brenda, my grandpa and two of my cousins were harmonizing with the Burl Ives album on the stereo as my father just stood there, admiring the simplicity of an unlit tree.
My mother motioned me into the kitchen where we started in on the dishes. She washed and I dried as we sang “The First Noel” and “All My Loving”.
“It’s nice to have family around.” I said. “Even if it’s just once a year.” “Especially, if it’s just once a year.” Mom sighed. "Hey, enough with the black all the time.” she added. “I got you a blue sweater. You’re going to wear it."
So, I hope to see you wearing some color this year. Merry Christmas. Happy birthday. You know, you don’t look a year older.