With each passing year I am learning to dislike the holidays more and more. Hate is getting to be the right word to describe my feelings towards the holiday season. It wasn’t always this way. I have never been a huge fan of Christmas, but Thanksgiving had been a long time favorite. I enjoyed spending time with my family over a good meal, and the day just felt like it filled its purpose of taking timeout to be with those closest to you. Christmas I didn’t particularly dislike, but we never had any money when I was a kid so when I was very young it was always a disappointment as I watched my friends get the coolest new toys while I got very little. I wasn’t very old before I came to understand why Christmas in my house was different than so many others, and I never held any animosity towards my folks for it. I saw how hard they worked, and I knew there was no money, but how I hated going back to school and answering the inevitable “what did you get for Christmas?”
With marriage comes the integration of two family’s holiday traditions. In our case these means trying to keep three different households, not counting our own, happy. My wife’s parents are split and her dad is remarried to arguably the most obnoxious human being on the planet. Her mom never remarried and brings a sense of need into the holidays that is suffocating, and then there are my folks who are by no means perfect, but are probably the most pliable of the three households. Who knows maybe I am just biased towards my own family. Hard to tell really. Two years ago we brought a son into the mix which has further complicated the season.
My wife and I have been together in some way or another since we were teenagers. I met her when I was fourteen, and took her out for the first time when I was sixteen she was fifteen, over 18 year ago. We have a lot of history, most of it great, but some better forgotten. One such forgettable moment occurred when my mother gave my then girlfriend a book on how to make pies. I don’t recall exactly when this happened. It was early in the relationship, but far enough along that the occasional holiday had been shared and there had been what I thought to be innocent conversation about the merits of our mother’s respective apple pie recipes. My mom had no idea these conversations had occurred, and to be fair the method in the book wasn’t even the method she used, but my future wife took the gift as an insult. Whether it was intended that way or not, which it wasn’t, she didn’t care.
About a year and a half ago I took over the cooking duties around our house. I work in over the road sales, and this crappy economy was having me home earlier than usual. I had been getting home well before my wife for a couple months, and was pulling a real asshole move. I hated cooking so I would leave the chore to her, but I was getting home at three in the afternoon and she was not getting home until nearly six with our infant in tow. I would ask what was for dinner, she would ask what I took out, I would say nothing because I didn’t know what she wanted to make, etc, etc. Looking back I can’t believe I was being that big a dick, but I figured it out and took over cooking. With Thanksgiving coming I wanted to prepare the meal and show off my new talents. I have learned to actually enjoy cooking and baking so I was ready to go. One of the things I wanted to do was make my mom’s apple pie recipe including the from scratch pie crust. The night before Thanksgiving after the boy went to bed I retired to the kitchen to make the pie. Not having any idea about the dough drying out I started there as it seemed the hardest step. When I had the dough made it just didn’t seem enough so, concerned I may have to make it twice, once for each crust, I called my mother to ask if it was a single or double crust recipe. My bride heard the conversation and was pissed. I hadn’t asked her the question because she had never used my mom’s dough recipe before so I figured she didn’t know the answer, but to her it was an attack on her ability to bake a pie and I was informed that I didn’t need to ask my “mommy” for help making the pie. Poof. There went all the fun from the entire process of making the meal and I was ten minutes in. I had managed to fuck up the pie crust, it was too dry, and rather than take any more chances I used crust from a box and let my wife show me how to put together the filling. In the end we made my mother in laws pie recipe. My enthusiasm for the project was dead and throughout the next day, despite having made a huge deal out my cooking the holiday meal, I let her lead me through the process and we together made the meal for her mother and my parents. The food was good, but the day was not what I had wished for.
The pie story was something of a side rant, but the point of this little essay is that even the once mellow Thanksgiving as become much too complicated. Where will it be? Will everybody be invited if we do it there? Didn’t they do it last year? Well if she comes, he will be pissed and might pout in the corner. If She doesn’t come than my Wife’s father won’t be here. What if we go nowhere? And on and on and on. Its enough to make you want to move across the continent, or maybe to a different one all together.
Christmas has gone from a manageable annoyance to a budget busting nightmare. My family had evolved the holiday into simple gifts and family time. My parents by virtue of working the same jobs for 30+ years are in a better place than they were when I was a kid, but they still spend comparatively little on the holiday. The other side of the family takes a completely different approach. It’s as if they feel they will be judged by both the quality and quantity of the gifts bought. If you spend $50 on one person for a single special gift and spend the same $50 on another for two or three gifts there is this sense that the person who only got one needs more so it will be equal. My wife and I will have five conversations about how much we are going to spend and what we are going to get, but it never works out the way we discuss. Extra things are bought here and there, and my opinion is continually asked for, like it is going to change as the money disappears, and ignored. Much like this years Thanksgiving dinner my life is easier if I don’t fight it so I don’t. Of course not fighting it has its traps too. My mom is admittedly bad at buying gifts in this system, and I have to hear her criticized for being cheap. She is a bargain bin shopper and rarely gets anybody anything they want or need, but I don’t want to hear about. This past summer I worked two jobs six or seven days a week, one of these jobs was physically punishing, trying to get our credit card paid off. I would have made it, but we needed a new bed this summer. That’s life, there is always something, but it kills me to watch the credit card balance grow during the holiday season and it is even more painful this year.
Christmas is another holiday where the frustration is compounded my son. We as family have made it clear we are not going anywhere for the holiday. If people want to see us they are welcome to stop by. The result of this has been the entire family rotating through my house over the course of the day, and a meal being prepared to feed everybody. In addition as if the gift buying wasn’t already out of control he wants for nothing. He gets more crap than he needs, and more crap than I can fit in this tiny house. Both grandmothers, and to an extent his own mother, contribute to this. No matter how we ask for them to tone it down has been obscene each year.
To me the holiday season is no longer a time of celebration, reflection, and family. It has simply become a matter of survival. I will enjoy Christmas morning with my son this year. He is two and knows something special is coming. He will be pleased with what Santa has in store for him. Christmas morning will also mark the end of the holiday nightmare which I am also looking forward to.