Christmas is rustic and resonant. Why do we box that all up when it’s over?
While I was burning dinner the other night, I started thinking about all the Christmases in this little house, so many screaming matches, ultimatums, false dramas, hugs, tears, board games and brown sugar smells coming from the kitchen.
No one ever said Christmas was easy. Think of those ancient men scraping their way across the desert, more grumpy than wise, trying to follow that star in the east. No 7-Elevens. Not even a drive-thru Starbucks.
Sometimes heaven is hell.
I was asking a friend the other day: What if you could sustain all the elements you like about the holidays: the smells from the oven, the lush Major 7 chords, the quiet resonance of late December? Why box up Christmas in January and hide all that in the garage?
We enjoy Christmas because the music is better, the food is a little more bronzed and rustic and people are genuinely decent for a change. To be able to maintain all that across the calendar year seems pretty unlikely to me. But you live your life, I’ll live mine. Whoever collects the most smiles wins.
In the meantime, our tree is finally up and sucking down water at a troubling rate. For the first time ever, we have a tree that drinks more than I do.
Leave it to us to buy a tree that needs rehab.
Smartacus and I picked it out with the help of a kid named Abraham (note biblical tie-in). Abraham lashed the tree to the roof like a kidnap victim, and we inched the Honda home, not really trusting Abraham’s knot-making skills but having tipped him pretty well just the same.
I’m in tipping mode now, the gardener, the newspaper guy, even tipped the carpenter who installed a new doors on the bedrooms and informed us after that the entire house is a little tilted.
“A little?” I said.
It’s a slanted putting green, this place. Seriously, Dr. Seuss was our architect, and we grew four crazy kids here, and I raised my wife here too – and she was a little nuts, you have to admit…sweet nuts, but nuts just the same, especially at Christmastime.
Honestly, I’m pretty much the only steady presence here. Me and the dog, who might be a wolf, might be a Russian double-agent, might even be an angel; she has a quiet dignity about her, a sort of canine truth.
Sure, I can get a little carried away at the holidays too. I always grow mutton chops this time of year and develop a fetish for Edna O’Brien novels, but what man doesn’t?
I have this fantasy – well, I have lots of them but this is one I’ll share: I wake up two days before Christmas, and find that I’m living in Victorian London. It’s like Dickens, except everyone has cellphones.
In mismatched socks, I go off to buy a Christmas goose, and wind up purchasing a sad little pub that I fill with my buddies, Bittner, Jeff, Miller and Verge.
The pub becomes a massive success — bigger than the Beatles — despite Bittner, Jeff, Miller and Verge. Or because of them, it’s hard to tell for sure. All I know is that in any movie, as with life, you need funny sidekicks to break up the monotony.
So the pub is a roaring success, except that outside the pub, the servants of Victorian London have gathered demanding rum: “We won’t go until we get some, we won’t go until we get some…”
Posh is one of them.
I never said it was an appropriate fantasy. It’s a little twisted, to be honest. Most worthwhile fantasies are.
It’s my antidote, I suppose, to a modern Christmas spent in a tilted tract house in suburban Los Angeles. We just re-made the old dump, added a couch that looks like a giant snow drift and bought an even bigger big-screen TV (they’re almost free these days).
You should hear the new sound system when the Jets blow a lead in the last second, or Lamar Jackson leaves his hospital bed to lead the Ravens to a comeback win.
Frankly, this house doesn’t really need a high-end sound system. It generates enough noise on its own. Smartacus won’t shut up about the Colorado colleges that have accepted him, and he sits around singing carols while polishing his skis. It’s all about academics for him.
Meanwhile, I’ve finally finished cursing online sites while Christmas shopping. Holiday shopping online is the Christmas equivalent of doing your own taxes. It has no romance, no cheer. And the shipping charges? Sweet baby Jesus! Someone’s getting filthy rich, and it’s certainly not me.
I’m just a dude with mutton chops and mismatched socks — one white, the other green with stripes — and a tree full of aging ornaments featuring photos of the kids when they were small, plus lots of coaching treasures from my career as a moderately successful youth soccer coach and referee.
This time of year, I would come home so grumpy from those games, especially when we lost. In Glendale — a spectacular city, the epicenter of the universe, really — when coaches finished their own games, they were required to ref the next game, thereby ensuring that you would be second-guessed and insulted for 90 minutes by idiots you’d never even met.
One game, I was insulted in 14 different languages.
That was enjoyable enough, sure, but the children were even better, and at the end of each season, your players would reward you with a little gift, often an ornament of a soccer-playing Santa, during a party at a really steamy and unpleasant pizza emporium.
These days, when the kids help decorate the tree, they hide those soccer ornaments around the back, deeming them unsightly. I move them to the front, then they move them to the back again.
“Leave my soccer balls alone,” I scold.
Little traditions like that make a family Christmas, everyone creating their own little version of the holiday in their heads.
That’s what we do, isn’t it, create this holiday in our heads beforehand, then try to make it play out in real life?
For instance, in those soccer ornaments, the kids see a tacky Santa kicking a soccer ball. I see a hundred former players, whose smiles lit up the soccer fields well into the playoffs of December.
Sometimes heaven is hell; sometimes hell is heaven.
I often wonder if they miss us, the loved ones who departed too soon; I wonder if they miss us the way we miss them. After all, heaven has its advantages – open bar, all-night bowling, all-you-can-eat thai food, that sort of thing.
But heaven doesn’t have us, does it? So, what do you think: Do they miss us?
“In a world brimming with change and disappointment, we can always count on Christmas, a holiday so significant that Tchaikovsky set it to music.” That’s an excerpt from my book “Daditude,” a collection of columns that includes my holiday favorites. There’s still time to order it and other books and gear by Christmas, the proceeds of which help feed my precious little pup White Fang. Be safe. Keep in touch. And happy holidays. Info: https://chriserskinela.com/shop/