Christmas Frenzy

Friday was a crazy day. Using up one of my remaining vacation days for the year, I planned to finish my shopping and start my wrapping. That's not as last-minute as it sounds. Some members of my family didn't want to exchange gifts this year, especially after my Aunt passed away over the Summer, and while I only bought presents for my cousin's children, I decided I should have gift cards ready for the adults anyway. I also don't buy food items for my parents until a few days before the holiday, for obvious reasons.

When I was a kid, this time of year represented getting things, and not having anything to do. Homework could wait a week, and even though my parents encouraged me to get it out of the way first, I always found myself in a panic the night before I was to return to school. As an adult, the schedule is shorter and the to-do list is longer, and the magic of decorations suddenly feels like another chore. When it's time to trim the tree, I feel old and tired, and I think my mom does too. “Can I finish my breakfast?!” she snapped at my dad, as he asked her if she'd come outside to give her opinion on the tree before he cut it. My dad has the opposite reaction to this time of year, and in decorating he becomes a little kid again.

As much fun as listening to an old married couple bicker on my day off might be, I was anxious to have my own breakfast and get out to the stores before they got crowded. My dad reminded me that I promised to help him with the tree, and I cheerfully agreed that I'd help when I got back. He was a bit more insistent, citing his concern that it was going to rain. Still keeping my cool, I asked if I could have breakfast first. He began moping and grumbling about how nothing gets done around here, and I had one of my moments. A spoon and an empty (thank God) bowl flew from my hands across the room and into the sink. “FINE! I don't have to eat. Why does everything have to be right away?”

The last time I got irrational and lost my temper with my dad, my friend B13 gave me some good advice about patience. I took his words to heart, as he lost his own father a few years ago, and I had managed to avoid further outbursts for a while. I have to appreciate my parents while they're still here. The second that bowl left my hand, I caught myself and calmed down, wishing I could recall it. I don't just feel guilty when I have a tantrum; I feel embarrassed. If I could step outside myself and see what I look like, I'd probably never blow up without good cause ever again.

“Eat your breakfast,” he said, in a tone I knew all too well. I held my ground, saying I'd take care of things that needed to be done before I relaxed. Half-joking, my mom chimed in that I also promised to put the heavy suitcases with her Summer clothes back on the top shelf of the closet. As a show of good faith, and to give my dad a few minutes to cool off, I took care of the suitcases. Then I returned to my dad, both of us more calm, and got him to show me what he needed.

This year he'd cut the top of one of the taller trees in the yard, but the trunk wasn't straight. Between the piano and all the other junk finding its way here on a near daily basis from my uncle's old house, I was surprised my dad was even considering putting seven feet of potential kindling next to the rest of the flammable new additions. My mom may be getting rid of things eventually, but it's a slow process. Just a few minutes ago, she interrupted my typing and asked if I had any use for a plastic cube with shelves, fake wood grain and a spinning base. “What is this anyway?” she asked, and I silently wondered why she'd taken it from my uncle's in the first place. I thought it was a cassette holder, but the slots were square and taller. My next guess was that it was for Beta cassettes, and she could definitely get rid of it.

I didn't want to push my suggestion of a small, table-sized artificial tree too much on my dad. I knew it might trigger another rant about how much garbage my mom is bringing home and how the house is going to burn down. As he held a tree with a curvy trunk and asked where he could cut it so that it would be straight and not an “S”, I couldn't help thinking how much trouble we were going to for a pagan tradition. I didn't say what I was thinking in that moment, instead pointed out that where he wanted to cut it would leave us with a three-foot Charlie Brown Christmas tree. He began to disagree, so I went inside to get my mom and a pair of gloves. I wanted her opinion before I took a saw in hand, and while my dad insisted we didn't need gloves, the skin on my hands aren't as tough as his. Years of being an auto mechanic have left him with numb mitts, but my cushy office work makes me a wimp with that kind of stuff. I would feel the needles.

My mom agreed that we should cut it much further down, and with a yardstick I determined the seven foot mark. My dad thought it would still be too tall and crooked, but my mom and I pointed out that we could always cut more, but not add if we cut too much. I sawed off the base and the lower branches, and prepared to carry it in the house. He wasn't ready yet though, and all he needed me for was my opinion and to saw it since his grip isn't as good as it used to be. And so my responsibilities at home, the very frustration I had snapped about, amounted to little more than a half hour dent in my plans. I think a big part of that character flaw comes out of being an only child. I possess a selfish world view, in which I look at everything in terms of how it affects me first. Maybe I'll get a handle on that and grow up at some point in my lifetime.

The stores weren't crowded yet, but the same breed of holiday shoppers still plagued the aisles, albeit in smaller numbers. People rolled wagons in front of me, cut me off in the parking lot, and generally got in my way. Don't they know the world revolves around me and my misadventures? Stupid extras. By 3:00 I was home again, and able to relax and watch a movie about a guy far more neurotic than me. At times I felt dizzy for some reason, and dozed off once or twice. I’ve been fighting the onset of a cold for days. My parents meanwhile had returned from shopping of their own, and my dad asked me to mail some letters for my mom since he doesn't see very well at night. When I got back from the post office, I ravenously devoured two plates of pasta, and realized it was the first meal I'd had all day. Amid the frenzy, I never did get back to my breakfast. It's too bad eating a heavy dinner to make up for lost time probably negated any weight loss from missing a few meals.

So far, my dad has put lights up in our yard. He's posted flyers all over town to help one of my friends sell ornaments. And while my mom and I were stuck in the routine of any other day, he was cutting and measuring and champing at the bit. Christmas isn't over yet. The living room still has to be cleared of all the junk to make room for the tree. The process of balancing it in its base lies ahead, along with more yelling. Hopefully, by being aware of my tendency to snap in advance, I can keep a cooler head and be a calming influence on my parents, should they lose their patience at any time.

I actually did mention the whole pagan thing to my dad after we were done cutting the tree. “All I know is MY parents always had a tree. Were THEY pagans?” I didn't want to be more of a Grinch than I'd already been, so I let it go and went on to my shopping at that point. I realized in that moment why he gets so upset, and why he goes to so much trouble. The tradition has nothing to do with its origins. Tradition is a personal thing, a reminder of our past, and he's honoring and remembering his childhood with his parents. In the MCF-centric universe, it used to be about my parents seeing their little boy's eyes light up along with the Christmas lights. Now I realize it's something more important, about seeing the light of a little boy's eyes return to those of a 76-year-old man. I guess that's worth a little hard work and sacrifice, after all.


Blogger Darrell said...

Christmas trees aren't a pagan tradition. Just about every tradition has it's roots in something that came before. Christmas trees are rooted (pardon the pun) in an antiquated pagan tradition, but they've been a Christian tradition for long enough by now that they should be seen for what they are ... simply a Christian tradition.

12/23/2006 6:11 AM  
Blogger Kev said...

MCF this is a great post.
It's got a great point we all probably need to reminded of occasionally.
And it's got some great lines like "As much fun as listening to an old married couple bicker on my day off might be" and
"Stupid extras".

12/23/2006 11:07 AM  
Blogger Rey said...


12/23/2006 1:31 PM  

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