I used to love Christmas. No, wait, that's not right. I used to LOVE Christmas. Back then, it seemed it was all about getting Christmas gifts, and in those days, it usualy meant toys (and, naturally, the never-wanting underwear). Then, for a few weeks, until the novelty wore off, those toys would be my world. It hasn't been so for nigh on a decade.
Then after that, Christmas began being about family. Or rather, I began to understand that Christmas wasn't all about toys or even gifts. It was about spending quality ime with one's relatives, and the gifts were mere accessories or tools for the deep communion. Of course, it's still nice to exchange gifts and unrap them and all, but it's really not what Christmas is all about, not even what it's mostly about.
In the latter years, after having moved out to college, comming home for Christmas took yet another meaning. I beagn to appreciate my relatives even more once I found myself only meeting them on weekends, should I be so lucky. It also meant that I'd start paying for some of the gifts I'd gie out, instead of having them all bought by others and given on my behalf. Certainly I can't yet afford to buy out all the gifts I "give", but I certainly do buy some of them, even if I'm not really expected to. I insist on it; it feels much different than the alternative. Much better, too.
The last couple of years, though, have been quite strange around this time. For near twenty years I had Chrismas Dinner with my mother's side of the family, and each year I'd collect the gifts the "other side" would have for me beforehand and unrap them with the rest of them, with the "same side". For near twenty I endured the scrutiny over said gifts, being forced to acknowledge that they were far inferior to all others, lest I offend present company. It hurt, standing there and often taking insult and slander in silence.
As an aside, I never really managed to graps the zest of this one-sided rivalry. The way it seems to me, my father's side of the family never really instigated, nourished or even held a rivalry. So my father's parents didn't get to see much of their (for quite some time) only grandson. So they could feel I wasn't quite as at ease with them as I was with their maternal counterparts. So they didn't get to spoil me as much as they would have liked. Tey quite understood it came with the teritory of divorce, and instead counted their blessings and enjoied what time they did get to spend with me. My mother's mother, on the other side, always had a consuming need to be acknowledged as trhe superior grandparent. She would have me state that I liked her gifts and her faimily's side's gifts better than theirs as well as other petty things. Now my mother's father, he was good friends with my father's father, and never really felt the need for any such silly acknowledgements, but his devotion of his wife would compel him to play into said scheemes. My mother's sister too wouldn't willingly play into such futile feuds, but, again, under her mother's influence (quite another complicated case of extreme need for approval. For another time, maybe), would (half) jokingly refer to my father's sister (insn't it interesting, this duality?) as "her rival", even if there was no rivalry at all. I'm quite certain all my readers understand that there really was no contest, as there is still no contest, and thus, nothing to be gained. My father's brother not only didn't have a maternal counterpart but also was still in college by the time I was born, being the youngest of thee brothers. This meant that he knew beforehand that he wouldn't ge to see me grow up even as much as his parents or siblings, certainly not as much as he liked, and even now resides and works far away from his hometown. However, this did not, by any means, make us estranged in any way. Draw your conclusions.
Back on track, now. A couple of years ago, while spending the late afternoon on Christmas Eve with my father and his side of the family, he invited me to have Christmas Dinner with him. I would have very much liked to, but, alas, I couldn't, for I had made plans with "the other side" (again, this struggle of sides, it just tore me up, but, for the life of me, it was neither my fault or my call) for dinner. However, and because that was by no means a moot invitation, I made a point of making plans for a year from that day for dinner with them.
And, guess what, I stuck to them.
Surprisingly, this was a Christmas dinner the likes I had never had before. You see, my grandparents were all somewhat of war children. They cowered in fear as infants as war aircraft scraped the skies above, and knew first hand the rigors of food rationing and all disgraces I pray I must never know any more closely than reading about them. As war children, they have an aura os seriousness about them, for, as you may imagine, their youths had little in the way of laughing. Furthermore, they're all deeply catholic, and we all know how catholicism regards the very concept of "fun". I mean, not meaning to offend any faiths, merely having one off the wrist is a deadly sin, lest you forget. My mother's parents, though not presbiterian, do seem to affect a very presbiterian posture regarding fun and enjoyment. So I gre up with the notion that a Christmas Dinner is something to be enjoyed amidst a very sternly serious silence. But that year, I found out you can have Christmas Dinner and fun at the same time. It nearly shocked me to discover you can bond as a family and laugh.
For years, that was all I really wanted for Christmas, that we could laugh as a family. That we could be enjoying a casual, light chat over dinner and then have someone say something extremely funny and have us all set down our silverware and maybe clutch our tummys as we laugh away. Or maybe get up in between course, prance a little around the dinner table, set ourselves up for a snapshot, then, in the brink of the moment, strike a most hilarious pose, or maybe one that ridicules (in a tasteful manner, of course) one of the people in the snapshot, then laugh about it and just fall into each other's arms from it. And that year, I got it. I finally got it. Big surprise I went back next year for more. So I had a hernia. So I was struck with excruciating pain the whole evening. So I had to stand in between every two courses, sometimes even mid-course to relieve the sciatic pain. It was the best Christmas Dinner ever.
Then, just after dinner, and contrary to most families tradition of waiting until midnight or even the next morning, we exchanged gifts, I packed mine and parted, for I had still to exchange gifts with the "other side". And when I get to my mother's parent's, what should I find? That my mother, just as affected by the boorish ambience I complained before, has fallen asleep on a couch (for the recors, we're talking about an insomniac who'll regularly and gladly not sleep before 3:00 am, dozing off at about 10:30 pm), my grandmother resents me for having Christmas Dinner without them two years in a row, my grandfather (oh, shock) supports her, and my aunt, much as she'd like to have no part in such petty matters, wouldn't resist under the gaze of her mother, and puts together some lame effort of a reprimand for my "insensitive bohemian behaviour".
Well, I suppose the Father Chrismas cap with the blinking stars on the white fur lining was too much. I mean, a Father Christmas cap at Christmas!? I must have been out of my mind.
So this year is back to Christmas Dinner with the Banishers of Laughing, but not before a perfectly timely falling out with my mother over the pettiest matter. You know what? I'm done with this two bit place I'm forced to call my home town. If ever I come for the weekend, I leave feeling depressed and physically sick. I dread the bus ride, and I see less and less reward each time. My father chooses to spend his weekends at his summer house (and I don't blame him the slightest), to which he often enough invites me, his mother often enough is found either touring abroad or visiting her youngest child, his father is long not among us, rest his soul. My mother insists on these petty quarrels. Her parents are welcome to visit me whenever they'd like. Let those form the outskirts waste whatever (quite finite, let me assure you) vitality they posess finding this twisted parody of a city a better place to spend their weekends, let them have it, for all I care. I'm done with it. Done!
Pax vobiscum atque vale.
ArabianShark is now feeling quite free form the obligation of returning home regularly. And now that I'm free to take up other responsabilities, I'm off to pursue a dream I have nourished for quite some time. I'm getting a cat. A presian, too. You'll see, a lovely silver coloured persian. I'll be better off spending my weekends with him, too.