A SINGLE CHRISTMAS
TO BE SINGLE at Christmas and distant (spiritually, not geographically) from one’s family may seem to many like a vision of Hell. In my case, nothing could be further from the truth. I like being single, and I like it no less at Christmas. Maybe I’m unnaturally short on sentiment, but I think the mind plays its subtlest tricks with our Christmas memories-see there, even that pat phrase comes to mind because of Truman Capote’s classic tearjerker, A Christmas Memory. That story depicts Christmas as it’s supposed to be on Currier and Ives Christmas cards, but seldom is in reality. I’ll take Capote’s Christmas memories, or the Waltons’, or Bing Crosby’s, but you take mine-please. Below the deceptive gilding of false nostalgia, the Christmases I recall are filled with boring conversations with relatives whose thoughts should be bottled as tranquilizers, long hours spent analyzing the nuances of the day’s weather with cousins whose names I will have to be told at their funerals. And let’s not forget the gifts. Stretch socks, always black. Vinyl billfolds. If Jade East ever makes a comeback, I’m stocked and ready.
No, give me Christmas on my own. It may not be much, but it doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. As I usually do, I’ll drop into a favorite bar on Christmas Eve. The day will probably be hot and windy, typical holiday weather in Texas, so the bar will be nicely air-conditioned. And almost empty, free of the usual happy-hour revelers who, on this one day of the year, are busy convincing themselves that they do have things to say to their parents-if only they weren’t always so busy.
No rush for the hors d’oeuvres today. I’ll munch a while, think things over and make out my gift list on a bar napkin: things that matter for people that matter, whether I’ve known them a decade or a week. Then, one stop in one store, where I nab all the presents in less than two hours. The next day I spend in bed reading, savoring the silence of my apartment building. All the neighbors have gone “home.” I’ll give out the presents a few days after Christmas or whenever I happen to see my friends. If they get me something, fine. If not, they can tell me a joke or share a good idea for curing the universe. Really. I neither love nor hate Christmas. It’s another day, and days are what you make them.
-E. Dalton Stein
A MARRIED CHRISTMAS
OUR FIRST FEW married Christmases were not much different from our single ones. The redefinition of my family as five grown-ups instead of four meant little in terms of celebrations like Christmas. It was we who migrated to my parents’ empty nest. in search of the sustenance that had filled us during so many holidays in the past.
But there was a turning point, and it occurred in 1974-a year in which December 25 fell on a Wednesday. Suspended midweek, with work days on either side, the day seemed somehow less legitimate, less worthy of the annual trek to Dallas from Manhattan. We decided to celebrate alone.
It was then that I discovered how weighty are the trappings of mother-daughterhood. For the first time, almost by reflex, I went into gear as the Real Provider of Christmas. I felt compelled to re-create the holiday meal of memory-roast turkey with cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes in orange shells, cranberry sauce, saut?ed string beans, creamed onions, candied apples, mincemeat and pumpkin pies. Two friends, also prisoners of the precarious placement of Christmas, agreed to join us. For days, I scooped orange pulp and crumbled corn-bread. I dangled apple slices in bubbly cinnamon brew. Christmas morning, just after I slipped the turkey into its final roasting place, our friends canceled. She had the flu.
As we sat down at our table laden to shameful excess, we felt utterly alone. We told ourselves we should round up all the Bowery bums and share with them.
We didn’t. We walked up 86th Street and stood in line to see The Godfather. Going to the movies on Christmas-even one with the violence of the Corleones-seemed somehow appropriate to the emptiness of that day.
But as hard as I tried to be Mother Christmas, it probably wasn’t until our sons were born that I experienced my first true married Christmas. We’ve grappled with the crucial question of whether Santa wraps his gifts or not. We’ve labored over a crudely constructed gingerbread house. We’ve been assaulted by incessantly verbalized wish lists (Michael Jackson Cabbage Patch doll. Snoopy Sno-cone machine, “a beeg gun to pow my brofer wif”). Somehow it all rings truer than that chilly Wednesday in New York. But I still occasionally wonder, when is the real mother going to show up?
-Ruth Miller Fitzgibbons
A DIVORCED CHRISTMAS
AN OLD NEWSPAPER friend of mine, whose marriage intermittently sailed through perilous waters, once told me that long ago he discarded the idea of divorcing his wife.
Even if his bride became an ex-wife, he said, she’d still maintain possession of one of the real joys of his life: his children. At the time, I nodded as if to understand, but I guess I never really did.
I do now. For so many years, Christmas meant to me (nuclear) family dinners, selecting and decorating a tree that reached the living-room ceiling, assembling toys on Christmas Eve just after the children went to bed, and wrapping presents locked away in a bedroom. But the best time of all began early on Christmas morning, when I was awakened by little hands gently tapping on my shoulder.
It was in 1982 that I experienced my first divorced Christmas. My ex-wife and I, assisted by lawyers, agreed that one year my little boy and girl would spend Christmas Eve with me and Christmas Day with her. The following year, we would switch days, hi fairness, I’d have to say my ex-wife is very generous in letting me spend time with the children. But somehow at Christmas, we live by the letter of the law-or should I say decree.
What it all boils down to is that I no longer awaken with the kids on Christmas morning, since I either get them Christmas Eve until 9 or 10 p.m. or I pick them up at 8 a.m. on Christmas Day. But Christmas 1982 also changed in several other ways. Suddenly, the large tree was replaced with a little one, most of the wrapping was’ done alone, the dinners were shared with my parents and other loved ones. The child-support payments needed “supplementing” for Christmas gifts that, for the most part, were suggested by Mom.
Two years later, I remain willing to run up the MasterCard, take the kids to the grandparents’ for turkey dinner, and be available when Santa Claus hits the Dallas shopping malls. I’m even happy to cart those “some assembly required” toys to my apartment or assemble them quietly in the cold garage of which I’m still a 50 percent absentee owner.
But inside, I’ll always wish it could be different, especially for the children.