Shaking the Snow Globe
Busy. In a word, my life right now, like millions of others. I just know there are people out there like me, people who, in their mind, concoct the perfect Christmas from the trimmings right down the perfect presents. We start our plotting and planning in October, as soon as the ghosts come down and the fake leaves on the front window go up.
It's ingrained in us somehow. Christmas is perfection. Christmas is snow on the ground and a home that smells like gingerbread and a tree that takes your breath away. It's little girls in blood red dresses trimmed with white lace and little boys barely breathing in tightened bowties and buttoned dress shirts. It's Silent Night playing softly in the background, and garland hanging from the ceiling beams and platters of cookies pile high on the counter, waiting for the colored sugar frosting. It's aunts and uncles and laughter and everyone loving their gifts, all smiles and appreciative kisses and hugs. It's a warm, cozy day that ends with the little children shuffling off to bed, the plastic bottoms of their feetie pajamas scraping against the polished wood floor and the clutch their brand new dolls and trucks and sleep with them because they were that good of a present. The children dream of elves and reindeer and the parents sip late night drinks and stare at the tree and sigh. Another Christmas come and gone.
It plays out that way in mind every year and sometimes my memories are clouded with my ideals. I imagine our Christmases as if we were plastic figures in a snowglobe, always in the same position, making the same faces, surrounded by the same things. Oh, we were always happy on Christmas, we always wore stiff dresses and hugged our aunts who smelled like formaldehyde and smiled for the 8mm camera. We have the grainy film to prove it.
But I don't think we baked cookies all that often and I know for sure that my mother has never, ever made gingerbread men and we were more likely to hear Elvis's Blue Christmas than Silent Night.
So I don't know where I got this image of the perfect Christmas from. Or do I? All my Christmas childhood memories are good and warm and happy, yet somehow I've taken those memories and warped them to an extent, inserting recipes from Ladies Home Journal and decorating tips from Martha Stewart Living into them. I've taken what the magazines and tv shows tell you what Christmas is supposed to be like and merged it with what Christmas was really like.
When I came to this conclusion yesterday, I stopped myself from buying all the essential gingerbread ingredients - I am the world's worst baker anyhow, so what's the point? - I gave up on hanging the garland from the beams and I stopped looking for the perfect gifts for everyone and decided to buy what was on their lists.
I did manage to do the one domestic thing yesterday that's important in order for me to enjoy Christmas. I cleaned like a madwoman. The floors were sparkling, the counters scrubbed, the dishes all done and the laundry finally completed. I sat in the living room at 11pm and watched the lights on the tree blink on and off. My neighbor's Christmas lights gave a nice backdrop to my tree and I stared at the scene in front of my window for a while, feeling good about the holidays, feeling warm. The kids joined us in the living room and we stayed there until midnight, no fighting, no whining, watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force episodes until we all fell asleep.
I'm still not finished shopping, nothing has been wrapped and my Christmas cards are still sitting on the kitchen table waiting for stamps. But I finally felt the spirit, maybe enough of it to carry me through today, through another trip to the mall, which tends to suck all of the holly, jolly Christmas tidings out of my soul.
I was just reading an article where people related their perfect Christmas memories. I thought of the year I got the Chrissy doll, the perfect doll whose hair grew when you pushed a button. And the year I got K-Tel's Super Sounds of the 70's albums, two discs of rock and roll with Black Sabbath and Yes songs that I played so much I thought I would burn a hole in it. I remember those two things so clearly that I could tell you what kind of pajamas I was wearing when I opened the presents, what song was playing in the background. They are sense-filled photographs in my mind, with my parents yawning and the smell of coffee and bacon wafting in from the kitchen and my little sisters tearing into their own gifts, searching for that one perfect present they knew would be under the tree. Santa never disappoints.
And really, Christmas never disappoints. Even without the gingerbread, without Silent Night, without aunts and uncles long gone, with me in my parent's place as the yawning, coffee drinking grownup watching kids unwrap boxes with glee, it never, ever disappoints. It's the charm of the season. Everyone is happy, everyone is laughing, everyone feels good. An aura of glad tidings does indeed exist around here. Even with Cartman's O Holy Night replacing my mother's Elvis, and store bought sugar cookies and a house that smells like strawberry scented Windex instead of gingerbread, it's a version of perfection I'm willing to accept. Because it's ours.
I just wonder if some day my kids will be in their own homes with their own children, getting ready for the holidays and wondering why the smell of Lysol and the voice of a belligerent milk shake will be part of their vision of the perfect Christmas.