Christmas was not my Dad's favorite holiday. Come to think of it, I don't know if my Dad would call any holiday his favorite. He was agnostic, so that ruled out giddiness over the traditional Christian holidays. He worked like a slave, so he never took off on secular holidays like President's Day. And he was not impressed by material goods, for the most part, so holidays that centered around buying trinkets did nothing for him. I guess he liked setting off fireworks when we were little, so maybe the 4th of July would have been a favorite. He didn't like the fireworks nearly as much as my brothers liked them, though, and I think by the 5th he was tired of fielding complaints from the neighbors about bottle rockets scaring their dogs.
So why did I feel the absence of my Dad so much more keenly at Christmastime? He told me once, during one of the years I lived at home after he got sick, that Christmas was always depressing for him; that he didn't much care for it. Lots of people get down in the dumps at the holidays, and I do understand why.
When my parent's divorce was still fresh, Christmas wasn't exactly all elves and peanut brittle. All of the shittiness of the rest of the calendar year seemed to come to a head and there was no way to avoid it. All collected in the same room, gathered around a tree, the tension and annoyance that ran the lines between the 5 of us would crackle to the surface in a sarcastic comment or a more blatant ridiculing. Despite their divorce, we all still always had Christmas together and my parents enduring tenderness toward one another made that possible. We did, and still do, like each other, but, like most families, we are not without our baggage and it is always heavier during the last week of the year.
The first couple of holidays after the split were bizarre as we navigated our way through a new normal, one that included two houses and two trees. My parents were hurting after being unable to salvage a 25 year union; their three semi-adult children were angry, and in true family tradition we dealt with those raw emotions by joking and teasing, occasionally taking it too far, but never apologizing. We were pissed at my Mom and felt sorry for my Dad and we'd swap presents and try to be the first to leave. My feelings would be hurt that Jeff had other plans or that Andy was only home for 4 days. I missed the pajamaed Christmases I'd grown up knowing, with myriad gifts, omelets at 11am, and naps in the afternoon. No hurrying, no leaving. So, I'd drink too much and count the days til it was time to go back to school, back to my friends and the anonymity of a huge university.
But Christmas wasn't always this way. For the first 17 years of my life it was generally looked more like a Folger's commercial. My Mom made Christmas the event that it was around our house. She baked and decorated, bought and wrapped gifts, and created the traditions that I see being replicated in my brother's homes as well as my own. We made lists, got toys and clothes when we were younger, clothes and electronics when we reached adolescence. The homemade fudge and stairway garland and big Christmas party that happened at our house during December helped build the excitement for me and I have never forgotten what that felt like. No memories from the divorce years can dampen that. I can still capture that feeling, though it is fleeting, as an adult.
The lazy but speedy week between Christmas and New Year's was maybe the best part of it all. My Dad would take vacation and be at home working puzzles during the day and making soup at night. The living room would still be littered with toys as no parent would dream of making you take your Christmas loot to your room before the tree came down. Shawn and I adopted that same policy last week, sleeping in, cooking, and playing with Violet's new toys late into the afternoon. The thing that struck me was just how normal it felt to have our little family together and complete for the week. It isn't normal, just like it wasn't normal for my Dad to be puttering around the house when I was young, but it just feels so right.
And that's what was missing from Christmas 2009. And 2008 and 2007, for that matter. That complete feeling of having all my loved ones surrounding me. I still miss my Dad and I suppose that I always will.