Christmas Eve 2013

A group of children hoisted by a crane on board HMAS AUSTRALIA II, December 1930I am driving through intense Christmas Eve traffic in Langhorne. It is 12:30 pm; there are a $55 salad and 32 coffee cups in the back seat. Paul McCartney is singing his horrific Christmas tune about A Wonderful Christmastime. I want to strangle Sir Paul with a Christmas wreath. I am dreaming of the moment I can hand over the keys and open a bottle of beer.

Every year on Christmas Eve, my crazy family gathers at my grandmom’s house for an evening of complex carbohydrates, Christmas cheer, and beverages. We shout, eat, drink, watch football, communicate at an impossible volume, and wonder why the neighbors haven’t called the police. My grandmom leads the proceedings from her headquarters (the kitchen), where she mostly stands at the stove and gives quiet orders amidst the madness.

It always turns out fantastic. The food is first-rate, the Christmas cheer palpable, and the company insane enough to keep the night interesting. For these and other reasons, Christmas Eve has become the barometer to which all other family gatherings are measured. Boy this Easter ham is nice, but do you remember the ravioli on Christmas Eve? mmm

This year, due to grandmom’s travel plans, my mom offered to accept the burden. When she accepted the Christmas Eve challenge, my brother, sisters, and I knew that it made sense. It was a minor change after all and one that would be dealt with later.

We had no idea.

Christmas Eve has been like being on the German side of the D-Day landings. My mom hasn’t spoken a word in the last four hours that isn’t a direct order to someone who was fired out of her uterus. I have decorated the tree, cleaned the living room, and gleefully followed my order to pick up a salad and coffee cups. It was supposed to lead to an hour of quiet that’s been ruined by Paul McCartney and Bing Crosby.

I return home to find sisters boiling around the house cleaning, my brother is prepping a salmon entrée, and my mom is speaking in Christmas tongues. The animals are confused but happy that they don’t have to clean something other than their own butts. My dad, having disappeared into his office to do ‘paperwork’ has been named as the central figure in various revenge plots that involve a ducking seat and ling chi. I have to remember never to piss off my sisters.

By the time the family and friends start arriving, we are exhausted and I am already drinking a beer. It just seems like the right thing to do. Soon, the tree is surrounded by presents, and people of different ages, shapes, and sizes are drinking, eating, and talking loudly. An old family friend has come over dressed as an elf and declaring herself the ‘Christmas Jew.’ We have declared ourselves her ‘Hanukkah Goys’ in the past. Her husband enjoys a sneak preview of the chocolate cake with my dad in the kitchen. Aunts and uncles eat food and then nod off in armchairs. There are four children running around the house playing a game obviously entitled: run in circles at top speed until someone cracks their cheek on wooden furniture, cry, be consoled, recover, and then start again. It’s an old game. I think I remember playing it as a kid.

The party is a hit. The food is engulfed, the drinks are imbibed, and the Christmas cheer is hanging around like a drunken uncle near the liquor cabinet. Later, the family drops off and heads into the dark night towards home. Our ‘Christmas Jew’ heads out as well, kicking the curled toes of her shoes. It has been a wonderful Christmastime.

Damn. I guess I have to agree with Sir Paul after all.

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