Three dreadful holiday columns in the Crested Butte News (two from reliably good writers; for the third, when a word like “pus” works its way into your holiday column, you’ve done something wrong — like me, using it just now) ought to be enough to convince me of the folly of trying to write about Christmas, and yet, here I sit.
Christmas has never been my favorite day of the season, let alone the year. That honor, at least seasonally, and possibly annually, used to fall to Tree Day — the day our family and those around us (Barils, Bartlesons, Barrys — anyone whose last name started with a B, although I can’t remember if the Blacklocks ever came along) would head out to a national forest somewhere to get our Christmas trees.
Maybe those who were in search of perfect Christmas trees approached it differently, but I found it to be a low-pressure day of family and friend camaraderie, starting with singing and sledding (behind the cars, my favorite childhood sport), maybe some mild getting stuck, and then the triumphant return home with trees, culminating in a communal chili dinner. Afterward, everyone would retire to their own house to decorate their own tree as a family unit.
Any year I am at my mother’s house I always check to make sure she still has the snowman I painted in the fifth grade displayed somewhere on the tree.
Maybe I’m the only one who remembers it fondly, but I used to organize an annual Christmas concert where the Livermore/Baril/Bartleson children would sing carols for our parents. I made everyone practice (perhaps endlessly), and staged our entrance and set the program . . . like I said, maybe it’s just me with the fond memory.
As an adult, that morphed into Sing Along With TL, an annual party that I hosted, complete with chili and a far less scheduled set of songs for singing. The biggest complaint I got from those parties was that the lyric sheets were hard to read and often incomplete, and every year I meant to type up a more serviceable sing-along guide — but it never happened.
That party also stopped happening, somewhere along the way as the holidays got busier and I could never find a free weekend to host.
Then I started staging a Pat’s Festive Holiday Party for employees and their guests, and that now seems to consume all my social planning for the season. I think it was our 15th annual a couple of weeks ago, with our largest-ever turnout of 33 guests. Attendees seem to enjoy it; one of them this year labelled it among her “top five best events of the year.”
So, by the time the run-up to Christmas is past, the big day itself can often feel somewhat anticlimactic. And, almost two decades ago I took a seasonal job at the airport, which runs every day, including Christmas, so sometimes Christmas became a work day. (I gave up my airport career about four seasons ago.) I can’t recall if the Post Office has required Lynn to work on a Christmas, but the days leading up are exhausting. Yesterday she came home at 6 p.m., and all of the carriers and one clerk were still at work, probably until 7:30 or 8.
So now it is Christmas. Not that there haven’t been good Christmas Day moments, because there are some that are highly memorable.
When we were young and played a lot of poker (I know: it doesn’t sound like a healthy game for children, but we only played for chips and it kept us occupied for hours and hours), Tia’s favorite game was the inappropriately-named Indian Poker, where you stick a card on your forehead so that everyone else can see what you have but you have no idea. She always thought everyone looked so stupid, and it made her laugh.
So one year I saw a bunch of TV commercials for the Bee Game (it has a different official name, but that’s what we call it) where you wore a bee on your head, and I knew I had to get it for her. I couldn’t find it anywhere, and then I went to Santa Fe, where my mom and John were living, and scored it at the last possible minute from Kmart. Tia opened it on Christmas, and the three of us played it with our grandma, who laughed far more than Tia at how we all looked.
Once you got my grandma laughing, she didn’t stop, and it was always infectious. She, in fact, received the best Christmas present ever one year.
I don’t remember how it got started, and I don’t remember any of the other gifts exchanged, but she and her son-in-law (my dad) got into this game of one-upsmanship to see who could give the other the worst Christmas gift. Maybe worst isn’t the word I want; perhaps “tackiest” is a better choice.
One year, my dad started on his gift to her probably in October. I believe I’ve mentioned that anytime we found a stray bolt or screw in the street, we picked it up and brought it to him, and he threw all of these into coffee cans in the garage. Well, he took piece after piece of small hardware — bolts, screws, washers, stray bits of wire — and welded them into a sculpture. Not a sculpture of anything, just a glob of bolts and screws and stray bits of wire. He worked on it for months. And then he put it in a box and wrapped it for Grandma.
She opened it on Christmas Day, got it halfway out of the box, and just started laughing, harder and harder. So we all started laughing. The sculpture/glob of hardware remained on her coffee table for many years, and I’ll bet it made her smile every time she looked at it.
So this is Christmas, and to hop on John Lennon’s bandwagon, I hope it’s a good one for you. I hope someone you encounter today does something to make you laugh or smile, maybe so hard it spreads to those around you. That’s about the best gift there is.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Above: When I was 9 or 10 and Terri 7 or 8, Mom got us the football jerseys we’d seen in the Wishbook. Terri’s was purple for the Vikings; mine was red and blue –it doesn’t seem like it now — because I liked the colors. Of course I still have mine — what did you expect?