Thursday, December 16, 2010

Martha vs. The Grinch

Think about it. Martha has prison creds. She has a collection of antique antler-handled knives and Amish gardening spades. She has an entourage of photographers, chefs and gardeners, all of whom carry sharp things. Except for the photographers. Their things are more cudgely than stabby, but that's beside the point. The point is this: Martha could kick that hermit-furred Grinch ass. Which is, of course, why I'm considering tea-staining my hand-made Christmas gift tags this year. Let me elaborate...

The other day, after our children were nestled all snug in their beds, my husband held me while I sobbed about the Christmas blues. He listened to me blubber and he patted my hands and squeezed me tight, and then, ever so gingerly, he pointed out to me the how over-the top Christmessy the living room in which I was weeping about how much I hated Christmas was.

The tree is all aglow and trimmed with handmade ornaments, our stockings are hung on the mantel with care, the curly willow and pine cone owl arrangement I rigged up is sitting pretty in the corner where it is topped with an origami star, the cool glow of the LED-light-bedecked-branch-filled urns I put on our front porch shines through the picture window. The room is festooned with Santa hats for everyone, yes, even for our poor, good, loyal, gentle dog. And there is a big book of Christmas music open on the piano's music rack to "O Holy Night."

I am Betsy's dog. Betsy did this to me.

A person could get the wrong idea. They could walk in my front door, catch the baleful gaze of our mutt, take in a whiff of the clove pomander candle and conclude, "Gee, Betsy sure digs Christmas."

And it's true, I do. I dig Christmas.

I'm not a religious woman. In fact, I am an un-religious woman. But I pride myself on behaving in a way that is more Christian than many Christians. You know peace, love, joy, charity, light, family and such. Christmas is my time to reflect on and cultivate these things in my life.

I love Christmas culture. I love making gingerbread with the kids. I love parties and booze. I love gifting and decorating. I love caroling and dressing my son in sweaters with reindeer on them. I love my girls in red velvet dresses, spiffy white tights, silk bows, and patent leather shoes. I even love sending Christmas cards to my bickering Aunties to stave off their insatiable hunger for contrived photos of said children in said attire.

But, also, Christmas makes me blue. It makes me, sometimes, weep. It's a fairly uncomplicated sadness, I suppose. Christmas makes me grieve for my family. I don't mean the family in which I'm the mommy. I mean the family I grew up in, the family in which I'm the baby. That family comes up with gauziest excuses to avoid getting together during the holidays. That family lashes out at each other with a little drama instead of coming together with love and affection. That family asks each other every year, "what are your plans for Christmas?" and then shrugs and says "I don't know, what are your plans?" We never know because other than sluffing it off, we don't have any Christmas traditions such as, say, spending Christmas together. It's awfully tiresome. I get tired just thinking about it. And sad.

We used to go to a somber Midnight Mass during which the congregation would sing "Joy to the World" as if it was a funereal dirge and then we'd come home for a midnight meal and then open presents in the wee hours of Christmas morning. It wasn't very merry. Children aren't at their best after midnight. But it was what we did every year. And then it all fell apart.
Now there just aren't any traditions in  place and it makes me sad. Our family is broken in so many ways by darkness and despair. It makes spending time together, especially at Christmas which is supposed to be about the opposite of despair, painful. So we don't really get together. We don't buy each other gifts. We celebrate Christmas at our in-laws. I know my mother-in-law will put out the Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus kissing each other on a park bench salt and pepper shakers and I will be glad to see them, just like every year.

I know better than to compare the family I have to the family I want but at Christmas time, I just can't help myself.
After I was mostly done weeping, my husband gingerly asked, for it's a good idea to be gingerly with me when I'm in this state, although not too gingerly or I will become wrathful: "Do you think all this Martha crap you do is kind of like some totemic ritual? Something you perform to ward off the dark spirits of Christmas?"

Oh God, he's right. But here's the thing -- there's this new family I've got. The one in which I'm the mommy. And it's my job to "make" Christmas for us. And I just want to make it right. I want to make it with gusto. I want to make it merry. I want to make it with my own two hands and with my own beating heart. Pa rum pa pum pum.
I hear a lot of beefing from people who do have strong Christmas traditions in their family. They beef about how they absolutely have to get together every year or their mom will just flip out. They beef about how the mountain of gifts they receive when they don't need anything at all makes them feel bad. And they beef about how much of a sham Christmas in general is with it's made-in-China tinsel and a Santa Claus in every mall.

It makes me want to throw snow in their faces.

Quit your ingracious beefing, you butt nuggets! Trust me, you don't want the flip side -- nobody much caring if you're around for Christmas or not, nothing under the tree with your name on it, no big deal. It's not shallow. It's culture. It's tradition. It's human. Without it, we're lost in the dark and the snow all alone. Women do an extraordinary amount of extra work this time of year to keep the home fires burning, the very least you can do is not whine about it.

Yes, it's true, we aren't suddenly full of cheer just because the radio is proclaiming "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Jesus Christ, winter is hard up here in the snow and the dark. It's really really really dark. And it's really really really cold. It's no wonder we have to make merry.

Then, after the Christmas hump, the light comes back in increments and so does the warmth. And that's when we can just let merry happen instead of working at it so damn hard.

When my children are grown they are going to know that they have to come home for Christmas every single year or their mom, (that's me!) will simply freak right the fuck out. They are going to complain to their friends that I'm way over the top showering them with gifts and serving elaborate meals. And my grandkids! Oh, my grandkids are stuffed full of sugarplums already and they don't even exist yet.

Undoubtedly though, those grown kids of mine will turn to each other in conspirational tones and say, "Have you noticed Mom gets a little wierd at Christmas time?"

Because there are blue parts to my Christmas too. There's the part where I get weepy, usually after a phone conversation with my parents or an e-mail from my sister.

So be it. I've got a crap-load of totemic rituals I can perform to ward off those dark spirits. Such as tea-staining my hand-made gift tags while slurping up a rye & ginger and eating the fudge that I bought to put in the kids' stockings but accidentally opened and ate without sharing.

I have no interest in faking merry. But I am gonna make merry, dammit.

Merry Christmas!

Screw you darkness and cold, we're picnicking in the snow!


  1. My own family is much the same. I don't talk about it much, because my mom reads my blog. But I have been doing a lot of crying over it myself.

    Why does it all have to be so HARD?

  2. Holy Frik I laughed! At so many things, for so many reasons! I too come from extreme dysfunction. I know damn well my Martha Stewart Mommying comes from that place, ensuring my kids never run away from me as adults, giving them the childhood I always wanted. And for me, Christmas is a month long chore that I just put my head down & plough thru with the only goal being the happiest f**king kids you ever did see when it's all said & done. We do it all for them....& that's ok! Because they are what gives US our Christmas joy! I love this post. And the prison creds...& so much more that had me in stitches! :-D

  3. Oh, my... the fact that you had me slightly weepy and giggling out loud (butt nuggets?! hee-hee)is a testament to your very Betsy-ness.

    I hope you find peace this Christmas, even if you have to mix it, bake it, macramé and glitter-glue it yourself.

  4. I'm not sure where I'm at. We didn't get a lot of presents growing up and I think I'll carry on that tradition (though I despised it at the time...I wanted that damned Castle Greyskull that my cousins got...). However, I'm torn between a busy life and a holiday apathy that doesn't make me want to do a bloody thing during the holidays other than holiday. No Martha Steward compensation, not even a tree this year (just a vacation to Maui...). I fear this is something my kids will hate me for, but then they'll likely hate me either way when their older. For being both over and underwhelming. Oh, holiday blues...

  5. What a gorgeous picture. And that sucks about your family. I don't have any complaints about my family at Christmas -- I love that I've only had to cook a turkey when my daughter gave my mother the stomach flu and she couldn't do it. I love that when my sister can't come here and we can't go there, my niece cries in her room because all she wants for Christmas is to hang out with Angus. My house looks like Santa AND the reindeer threw up in it, and I'm happy with that. I'm glad you're giving your kids the Christmas you didn't get, but I'm sorry you didn't get it. Also, your dog is beautiful -- why do you hate him?

  6. I loved this post so much, Betsy. Christmas can get awful weepy for me too. Last time I saw my mama was Christmas Day 2009. And I, too, have only largely my in-laws to make merry with. Until we make some babies of our own.

    Thanks for this post. Thanks for articulating something I felt so strongly, but couldn't piece together in my mind. You're good at that.

    And what a lovely and beautiful picture of you that is! =)


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