For the last couple of weeks the news has been filled with scare tactics about visiting family for the holidays – the basic message being, “If you see family for Thanksgiving, you may all be dead by Christmas.”
It’s not the joyful, hyped-up anticipation of the holiday season we’re used to. But whether you’re planning your usual holiday travels or sticking close to home, there’s really only one thing that matters…
Most of our fondest memories stem from holiday travels and traditions — and no stinkin’ pandemic can take that away from us.
Many states are locking back down due to a surge in COVID-19. The doomsday talking-heads are telling us to stay home and refuse anyone from entering – family included.
No Thanksgiving dinner with mismatched chairs pulled from all over the house to seat our nearest and dearest.
No late-night Thanksgiving leftovers where everyone grabs a fork and communally shares an entire pumpkin pie and a couple bottles of wine.
No lining up at 4am for Black Friday deals at the mall.
But whether or not you plan to listen to the advice; whether or not you live in an area that has reissued mandates; whether or not you have relatives who are uncomfortable coming to see you, we can always draw on our past and hope for the future.
Traditions, large and small, are still going to be continued this year.
And then, there are always those awesome memories we can build upon as we all try to find the light at the end of the tunnel of this never-ending year.
It’s almost time for Christmas vacation…
My dad, our very own Clark Griswold, loves Christmas.
And just like in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, the season started with cutting down a live tree and hauling it back in our giant, old Buick station wagon.
Of course, all the “cut your own” tree lots were more than an hour away, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm.
We passed the time playing a game. My sister and I would often sit in the back cargo area of the Buick on long trips and this was no different. When we went down a hill or over a big bump in the road, my dad would yell, “Get ready!”
Seatbelts off – if we even had them on – Dad would speed up as my mom grabbed the door, the dashboard… anything she could find to brace herself for what she was certain would be our impending death.
The winner was the one who hit their head on the roof of the car first – or the hardest. Bonus points for headaches or whiplash. Eighties parents were the best.
And when we arrived home, Dad, beaming with pride, would get out the tree stand and call my mom in to help.
It would take hours, no exaggeration, to get the tree straight enough to meet my father’s approval. “Mildred, move it an inch to the right! No, #$&!, left a little…” On and on until we realized we weren’t putting ornaments on anytime soon.
Inevitably, the cat would knock the tree down and the whole process would start over again.
But there was no giving up on the family Christmas tree. Like Clark, my dad would have chopped one down from the neighbor’s yard if it came down to it.
Then there were the Christmas lights. Old-school, giant bulbs – and if one went out, they all went out.
There was always at least one bulb out per strand – strands that were tangled beyond recognition – thus producing joyful choruses of vulgar language that resonated in my head for years, and led to the sailor’s mouth I have today.
My sister and I sat waiting during these hours of tree-straightening and detangling of lights and explosions of profanity so we could put on a couple of ornaments, throw on some tinsel, and go to bed.
The inside tree first, then the outside lights. There was more profanity, there were injuries, but no one got to eat or rest until the masterpiece was complete.
My mother could be found silently crying, head in her hands, knowing she had to work the next day – and knowing there was no stopping this man on a Christmas mission.
We had one weepy tree near our front door that got a string of lights every year. My dad had kept it tied with a piece of rope for years upon years, staked into the ground to get it to grow straight. It never did, yet the rope remained.
The stockings were finally hung, a point of discord my entire childhood. My sister was born days before Christmas, and the hospital would send all the Christmas babies home swaddled in a giant stocking.
It was this stocking that my sister hung for Santa each year, severely dwarfing my own standard-issue one. I would go to sleep on Christmas Eve having nightmares of waking to an entire toy store in her stocking while I got a few pencils and a candy bar.
As the big day drew near, family arrived with all the typical fanfare – strange smells, strange habits, and lots of eggnog and beer to make the experience survivable for all.
Dad would put on his Santa suit when we were little (he even worked as a mall Santa one year to save up to buy – no, not a swimming pool – but our first Tandy computer. It was totally rad), and then came the reading of A Christmas Carol, which we had worked through, chapter by chapter, each night after the tree went up.
We would drive into Washington, D.C. after church every Christmas Eve to see the National Christmas Tree as my dad’s eyes sparkled with Christmas joy.
Nearly every year, we fell asleep in the back seat, missing our view of the tree as he drove by.
(Sometimes too much) Family Time
Then there were the visits from annoying family who took over my room for the week – but what I wouldn’t give to go back in time and be annoyed by them just one more time.
There was the packed dining room table with mismatched chairs – one from my bedroom desk that I’d spin around in, despite warnings of bodily harm, while we ate our holiday meals.
On one occasion, I vividly remember vomiting up my dinner – my parents both disgusted and gleefully satisfied that they could say, “I told you so.”
Fighting cousins, younger siblings left out of the older kids’ shenanigans, aunts telling you to put on the ugly sweater they brought you, and “druncles” (drunk uncles if you didn’t have the pleasure of that particular childhood experience) embarrassing you.
And you know what? These are the things we remember – and cherish – about the holidays.
They’re always stressful and hectic and so worth it.
This year, as the media and the CDC tries to discourage us from traveling or even gathering with our family for the holidays, it may be these stories from the past that will be so important to reflect upon this season.
We’re all home more now, and home is definitely the best place for making holiday memories.
God willing, there will be a next Christmas and this mess will be over and we can get back to some sort of normal – and do the holidays bigger and better than ever.
And the best gift most of us will receive this Christmas is that 2020 is about to become a distant speck in the rearview mirror.
So get out your matching Christmas pjs, a thermos of hot chocolate, and jump in the car for a Christmas sing-along while you drive around to see the lights.
And, hey, life is short. So don’t take off that seatbelt and speed down the hills while you’re at it. (*Disclaimer: This is a metaphor for life, and though I survived, I can’t afford to be slapped with a lawsuit this Christmas or pay for your speeding ticket.)
And that’s how we do Christmas Vacation!