Thursday, December 15, 2005

Thinking of a Home Christmas

Even though I'm still a bit under the weather, I managed to sleep all the way through the night and get lots of much-needed rest. I think it may have something to do with the fact that instead of leaving my tv on ESPN News turned down low all night (and of course the commercials are much louder, so sometimes they wake me up), I turn it to channel 941 and listen to 'Sounds of the Seasons' for constant Christmas music--much easier to sleep to, and it keeps me in a good mood. And since I have the digital cable wired through the surround sound system, I can turn off the TV monitor and just listen to the music playing. Next thing you know, it's eight hours later and I wake up refreshed and full of the holiday spirit.

The agenda for today is to finally get all of the Christmas cards written and the envelopes addressed, and hopefully I'll get them mailed out by the weekend. I'm really bummed this year because of my lower-than-usual income (still only working part time and picking up odd jobs here and there), I'm not able to go nutso on the Christmas shopping and load up all my family members with nice presents.

I learned a long time ago the simple truthfulness of the old adage 'tis better to give than to receive', as the best Christmases for me have been the ones where I've been able to spend money like a drunken sailor and fill up all the empty space under the tree. The funny thing is, although I totally appreciate all the gifts that I've received over the years, I can only recall very few of them. But I remember with surprising clarity just about every gift I've ever shopped for, wrapped, and witnessed being opened Christmas morning. That's the best part of Christmas--seeing the look on everyones faces when they are truly surprised by a nice gift of something they mentioned in passing months before that they said they'd like to have.

To me, nothing is more fun than Christmas shopping with my sister Amy--normally I hate shopping and wouldn't set foot in a mall unless there was a gun to my head. But we always have a blast window shopping, goofing off, telling jokes, people watching, sampling chocolate from the candy shops, and actually getting a few purchases made. Of course, with so many females in the family, a lot of my shopping is done at Victoria's Secret--talk about comedy potential--especially when you tell the salesgirls that you're looking for stuff to give your sisters and nieces. (Yeah, I buy them perfume, you sickos!). But we always have more laughs than we should.

Then it's back to the house where the smack-talking silliness of the two of us trying to wrap packages ensues. (Basically, all I do is hold down the ribbons, tear off tape, hand her the scissors, etc.--I'm a typical guy when it come to gift wrapping). After that, we've got days of 'I know what you're getting' taunts and pretending to shake the packages under the tree to keep us occupied until Santa's big night.

I'm really missing that this year.

Another family tradition that I'm sorry to be missing is the Christmas Eve get-together. My mom always says that Christmas Eve is her favorite holiday, and I think I agree with her.

Around 6pm or so, everyone gathers at one of my sister's homes, there is holiday music playing, a bowl of eggnog to drink, lots of snacks--ham & cheese logs, pumpkin rolls, Hello Dollies, crackers, nuts, candy, and the family favorite--peanut butter balls. We talk about past Christmases, pass the phone around and talk to those who are absent, and although nobody in my family except my dad and younger sister have much to do with any type of religion, a bible can usually be found, dusted off, and the Christmas story is read.

After all that, everyone gets to open ONE present, and not the one of their choice. Usually Sherry or mom decides who gets to open what, and a lot of times it's the boring stuff like socks or sweaters that get unwrapped, although one year we ran out of rum, so that's what I got to open... Merry Christmas, indeed!

By that time the party is winding down and we just sit around talking quietly, sipping our drinks, listening to music, and staring at the Christmas tree, basking in the glow of the fireplace, while everyone silently gives thanks that we could all be together once again.

Before it gets too late, the party breaks up and everyone heads home to do their last-minute 'elving'--stockings get stuffed, the 'big' presents come out of hiding, and the gifts that the 'givers' didn't want the 'receivers' to see under the tree finally get placed. Usually by then, all the activity and rich food takes it's toll and everyone falls fast asleep, the only sign of life in the entire house being the twinkling of lights on the tree.

Usually, around six am or so, somebody wakes up to go to the bathroom, and does the 'Hey--you awake?' to somebody else. Before long, everyone is up and gathered in the living room. The first order of business is open the stockings--that's always a lot of fun, because even though they're full of little stuff like gum, mints, toiletries, candy, magazines, etc., one of the traditions in our family is that we still wrap every little thing, so it's more fun and it makes the whole Christmas morning experience last that much longer.

After the stockings are done and the mess is cleaned up, we have our traditional family breakfast of Danish Ebelskivers, bacon, and orange Julius. It's one of my favorite meals of the entire year, a close second only to Thanksgiving dinner.

Finally, once breakfast is finished, it's back to the living room and the unwrapping of presents begins in earnest. All of the hype and anticipation of the season finally culminates in a heap of giftwrap and bows, and the secrets everyone has been holding onto for the past month no longer need to be kept. Although there aren't many young kids in the family at this point to watch tearing into a bunch of toys, just seeing everyone getting a surprise or two is still great fun to see. And it goes on all day long because the rounds are made to everyone else's house to do more exchanging of gifts.

At some point late in the afternoon, everyone gathers again for Christmas dinner, which is usually an informal affair with snacks, finger sandwiches, and more eggnog. If there's a football game on, it plays in the background while the evening takes on a typical family get-together vibe. Lots of laughter and silliness, stories getting told, and the inevitable announcement from mom that you can set your clock to--Well, I'm glad it's finally over.

This year, however, I'll be missing out on most of these activities. Being the low man on the totem pole at my particular casino has left me in the unenviable position of having to work overnight on Christmas Eve. Somehow I don't think dealing blackjack or dice that night will be nearly as much fun as being back in Tennessee, spiking the eggnog and having my niece Becca sit on my lap, tweezing the gray hairs out of my beard while we watch It's A Wonderful Life.

This year I'll be the guy on the other end of the phone that gets passed around while the party goes on without me. It makes me a little sad, but next year I'll be there. Count on it.


No comments: