I hate Christmas-that's my clever opening to this story. Maybe it's the time I've spent working in retail over the holidays, searching for an elusive Garth Brooks CD for some drooling yokel or maybe I'm just fashionably angry, but is it cool to hate Christmas? Who am I trying to impress, Satan? It's not like saying you hate Britney Spears, pretending your musical tastes are pure when you know you shook your ass to "Toxic" more than once.
My hatred is nothing new. I've almost always felt disgusted with the holidays, long before I could gripe about commercialism or the green and red smear that stains retail stores the first day of November. I feel guilty for being so greedy as a child, for hoping the biggest gift under the tree would have my name on it. I'm ashamed of making myself the center of everyone's gift-wrapped attention.
Now I hide out while opening gifts, preferring the anonymity of a dark corner or broom closet to the dim ***image1***spotlight of the Christmas tree lights. I have no fuzzy memories of chestnuts roasting or caroling, just an endless memory loop of me sitting amongst a pile of wrapping paper wanting more.
This isn't a rant about how I never got the BB gun I always wanted. I got plenty of gifts and was always grateful for them, even when I hated or felt indifferent about what I got. I couldn't fake enthusiasm or lie without laughing or getting sick to my stomach. Even my most heartfelt "thank you's" sounded like Bush campaign promises-the half-truths of a dishonest greed-whore.
Over the years, though, I've managed to actually sound thankful without the politician tone, but it's been a long road.
Christmas, 1988: My younger brother, Jonathan, and I stumbled into our living room, lured out of bed by the warm glow of the colored tree lights and the promise of a mound of toys. It was early, still dark outside, but an acceptable time for an 8- and a 4-year-old, considering the circumstances.
We ripped into our gifts, revealing action figures and board games and clothes that would never find their way onto our backs. I dumped foil-wrapped goodies from my stocking onto the floor and gobbled up Santa-shaped chocolate, beginning a sugar buzz that would last well into the New Year.
Jonathan struggled with a package of blocks, pulling at the plastic wrapping with his teeth. Mom surveyed the wrapping paper massacre from the couch and snuffed her Marlboro Light in an ashtray. "Everything good?" she asked.
She was always worried we wouldn't get enough stuff during Christmas, afraid her single mom income would only cover the cost of lame, unwanted toys. She managed enough for bikes and skateboards, though, always coming up with extra cash for lame sweaters or ill-fitting dress shirts.
My brother started in on his chocolate, his teeth little brown pegs. "Mmm hmm," he mumbled.
"Thanks, Mom," I said, examining my pile, unsure what to play with first.
"What about the toy box?" she asked.
The toy box; it sat by the tree undisturbed all morning, receiving a whispered "wow" from Jonathan as he hoisted the package that contained his "My Buddy" doll from under the tree. I'd noticed it, too, but couldn't get excited about it. The blue lid opened and closed, but you couldn't play with the thing-that was where toys go to rest. An empty toy box waits to be filled, sending pissed-off boys to suffer unbearable childhood trauma like bathing or going to school.
"It's really neat," I managed. It was neat, cool, nifty, swell, but my 8-year-old brain was having trouble grasping the utilitarian concepts my mom began throwing at me.
"Your old toy box is broken. This one's much bigger. It was pretty expensive. It's plastic, it'll last a long time." She spoke in rapid-fire bursts.
"Yeah, thanks a lot," I said, flipping through a book on the solar system. Jonathan chewed the ear of a plastic dinosaur.
For a moment there was silence; everything seemed to slow down and grind to a halt. Then, Mom exploded.
"Dammit," she yelled. "Y'all don't appreciate nothin'."
I froze. Her Vesuvian outbursts were legendary; broken plates, macaroni splattered against the wall. I was always prepared for catastrophe, but long considered Christmas a safety net, an opportunity for good cheer and an even temper from my mother, but that year all bets were off. She was pissed.
She was certain we were going to love that toy box, had built it up so much in her head that our indifference lit a fuse in her brain and exploded her hopes for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. "Don't appreciate nothin,'" she repeated, lighting another cigarette.
Jonathan put down his dinosaur and walked to the toy box, lifted the blue lid and leaned it against the wall. He looked to mom, sitting on the couch, her eyes rolling in her head, and climbed inside, smiling and doing a little dance like he was having the time of his life. I put down my space book and joined Jonathan, knocking on the plastic to test its sturdiness and running my hand over the surface, trying anything to show how much I appreciated the big plastic rectangle.
The holidays put too much pressure on us all, young and old. Will your girlfriend like that antique cookie jar you got her? Are you going to fight with your dad over who's going to pick up the Heavenly Ham? It builds every year: like, want, give, spend, thank, return, exchange, trash, regift. Take my advice; block your chimney and keep the milk and cookies for yourself. This year, tell Santa there's no room at the inn.