Thursday, January 25, 2007

(Overdue) How Christmas Works in MY Family...

It's been over a month since I blogged, so I figure it's about time to ante up some info on my ponderings and goings on. I have a lot to cover, so bare with me here…

I'll start with an explanation of how Christmases work in my family nowadays…

The holidays were rough; both financially and schedule-wise, but not unpleasant. Not too big on the material gain/goody grab for yours truly (see my previous blog entry about my wish list), but fun on the whole and I got to spend some great time with my family – both immediate and extended. Being the only clan on both sides of the family currently with small children that still believe in Santa, everyone wants a piece of us every year. Having both sides of our family relatively close by (that is to say, within an hour's drive) doesn't help, as well as the fact the both Sonya and I have parts of Christmas traditions and gatherings that neither of us want to give up. This leads to us running around the lower quadrant of the state for 3 to 4 days like we're on a frantic road rally for our lives, attempting to please our families, each other, the kids, and ourselves to the best extent possible. Let me give you an example of the usual Christmas insanity we have turned into our traditional holiday mad-dash towards post-holiday exhaustion….

December 23rd we usually spend grabbing the last of the forgotten gifts and goodie-makings for Christmas Eve. We say every year that we WILL not be doing this ON Christmas Eve, so we usually just barely beat our self-prescribed deadline to give us at least SOMETHING we can point to as accomplished.

Christmas Eve we spend most of the morning baking the last batches of fudge, cookies, and whatnot to contribute to my family's gathering down in Ida (about 50 minutes drive, just outside Monroe), and gather and wrap the last of the gifts for the few younger members of my extended family. Every year we insist this is the LAST year we buy stuff for the older of my cousins, who both are long past the "magic of Christmas" age and delving ever deeper into the "jaded fog of commercialism" stage. Regardless, we get them Blockbuster gift cards and maybe something token to fill it out. Who the hell knows what to get older teens/early twenty-somethings that doesn't require another mortgage of the house, anyway?

From there, about mid-afternoon, we drive out to Ida. The evening is pleasant, and spent eating good old-fashioned comfort food, chatting, catching up, reminiscing about fiascos from Christmases past, singing carols, and listening to the boys play video games in the basement. A good time is had by all. Then come the time (roughly 8 or so) to head home and plant the kids in bed so we can do the Santa bit.

We take off and pray the kids don't fall asleep too long on the ride home, so that getting them up to put out the milk and cookies and get them into bed isn't too much of a hassle. When they've set out fudge and milk for the Big Guy and some carrots for Rudolph and sufficiently hit their sugar-induced coma, we begin wrapping the kids stuff while watching Christmas movies (Usually Christmas Story for sentiment and Christmas Vacation for the tragic similarities – most notably Clark's rant about his boss near the end, which I recite by heart frequently and justifiably at work). We write out a note from Santa to the kids for them to find in the morning by the near-empty plate of cookies. Round about 1 or 2am, we hit the hay.

Christmas Day, we start out with the Rockwell-esque unveiling of the gifts, squeals of joy, and hopefully a decent breakfast of eggs and the traditional candy cane-shaped coffee cake her family has made every year – and coffee. LOTS of coffee! After basking in the glow of the kids faces for a while and watching them play with their loot, we pack up the presents for Sonya's family and drive to her parents' place for Christmas Day, Part Deux.

We arrive at Sonya's folks' place, and after dawdling for what seems an insufferable period to the kids (and often myself as well), we FINALLY get to the tree to pass out gifts there. This usually goes on for quite a while, as there are now 7 of us (Sonya, myself, the kids, her folks, and her brother), and we somehow feel the need to "ooh" and "ahh" at each gift for a few minutes before passing out the next. When the gift-giving is completed, it's off to prep for Christmas dinner.

Usually including Sonya's dad's cousins, Ruth & Neta, Christmas dinner is usually a flurry of cooking, clearing, cleaning, and such, but much time is spent (in between passing out h'ors duvres and setting the table, etc.) simply relaxing, munching, and chatting. The traditional meal of beef, potatoes, veggies, cranberry relish, and usually walnut-cheese cutlets for the vegetarians, is capped off with the Ferris' incredibly rich and filling Christmas Pudding, drenched in a molten buttery, sugary goodness of a sauce. 2 bites is enough to have you fasting till Groundhog Day to drop the extra pounds.

When the feast, subsequent groaning about overindulgence, and chatter are through, we pack up our gifts and hit the road. The kids are usually already in jammies and fall asleep on the drive home. We carry them into the house, drop them in bed, have a nightcap, and collapse on our bed in utter exhaustion. But it ain't over yet…

You'd think when Christmas is over, things calm down, right ? WRONG! Now that we've done the gift exchange with Sonya's family, it's time to do the gift exchange with my more immediate family. So, the day after Christmas we usually head to my grandfather's house in Bloomfield Hills to exchange gifts with him, my mother, and my uncle – usually over pizza. The day after Christmas is also the day my great-uncle and aunt usually have their Christmas family gathering at their place in Birmingham. When the calendar permits, we do my grandfather's in the early afternoon and my great-uncle's in the evening. Not so this year.

The day after Christmas I worked all day and we did my great-uncle's in the evening. It was nice, if a bit awkward. Usually a lot of extended relatives I only see once a year at just this gathering. I'm inevitably sucked into a conversation about how school is going, and have to regale them with my latest excuse and/or reason for not being done yet. This begs the perpetual reply of something akin to, "Aww, that's too bad. Well, keep pluggin' at it!" Ugh, to avoid that topic all together…

There's usually a gaggle of the younger crowd in the den, watching TV and Liam often wanders in there to show off his favorite toy and watch cartoons or whatever "guy stuff" they happen to be watching, while Courtney soaks up the adoration of the older folks and plays with whatever doll she brought. There's good food, once again, and family I have no problems with, but nothing particularly in common with. It's more obligation and habit than a real desire to go.

The next day was work, then to my grandfather's. My uncle was taking my grandfather and his friend to see White Christmas, so we got a late start. We gave some clever gifts that were well received. The kids got some neat toys, Sonya and I got money, and we had pizza – the usual. I was enjoying Christmas, but by this point, I just wanted to sit in front of the TV for half a day and catch my breath.

From there, a certain level of normality begins to take hold, with the slight bump of New Year's Eve. Usually Sonya's parents are happy to take the kids while we go to whatever gathering we've been invited to or just have a quiet evening at home. This year we had planned to drop the kids at their grandparents' in Flint, then head to a friend's house for a party a mere mile from their place.

Due to miscommunication and lallygagging, we didn't get the kids to their grandparents' til about 9. I drove them up myself, as the hour was getting late, our friend Leigh had come by, and the holidays had us completely worn to the bone. So we decided to forego the party in Flint and just spend New Year's at home with a friend. I did manage to stop by and make an appearance, drop a contribution to the party fare that Sonya had made, have couple bites of munchies, and a lovely, if brief, chat with Nyma and Todd. I got to see their perfect little house, as well (I was impressed - just so right for them).

After my stop in Flint, I headed back home and got back about ½ hour before the big moment. Sonya, Leigh, and I opened Champagne (1 good bottle and one ancient bottle we rightfully didn't expect to be consumable), shot off some leftover bottle rockets from the 4th of July, and spent the next few hours just laughing, drinking, talking and watching movies. It was absolute, relaxing fun.

That, my friends, is how insane I am at Christmastime and why I haven't had much chance to blog. We should just alternate years between our families, I know. It would make things SO much less crazy. But we both love our traditions and don't want to miss anything if we can avoid it. Over the past several years we've both had to sacrifice pieces of it due to work, illness, or other obligations and it's left us a bit disappointed each time. Not to mention the inevitable hints of guilt trips we'd get (or at least feel) from whichever side of the family is spurned on any given year. Trying like hell to get 15-20 people happy and placated in one house has been a tradition on my mom's side for generations – and those are the Christmases I hold most dear in my memories.

…if I only knew the hell my parents and grandparents went through to make them that way.

Coming up (eventually): "Post-holiday stress disorder" or "How to fail miserably in business even though you're trying like hell" or "What's he REALLY been doing the past month?"!

(or some other useless bits of rubbish)

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