Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Conflict

Ho ho ho. Its almost Christmas Eve and I will spend the day shopping and preparing brunch for Lee's family visiting from Virginia for breakfast on Christmas morn. It will be fun for I do not usually plan to feed three sturdy men with hairy chested appetites.
Its an adjustment in expectations. I hope I get it right this year! Meanwhile I'm sharing an early childhood Christmas conflict of a different sort.

Christmas morning rather than the preceding eve was when we celebrated in my house. Santa was supposed to come after we two children went to bed, bringing the tree, gifts, etc., and restoring himself with the chocolate cake and milk I carefully placed by the fireplace. I remember coveting the cake. It had delicious crackly white frosting. I think all this was my mother’s English tradition, for my Dad grew up so poor they probably did not celebrate at all.

Daddy would jingle bells in the yard outside our window to add to the guise. Mother would stay up most of the night wrapping gifts and decorating the tree and in her usual style irrigating her vocal cords with whatever booze was available so that in the morning the living room looked like a magic show with twinkling lights and piles of packages. This meant that she would not drag out of bed until nine or so, usually hung over, and my sister and I would have to wait quietly in the dining room in agony of anticipation. Our ugly long brown socks which fastened with garters would be hanging by a clothes pin from the fire screen stuffed with tangerines and mixed nuts including one called nigger toes. I had no idea what that meant and I doubt my parents did either, though of course I wince now at the racial slur.

The big problem for me however was I knew there was no Santa. I was reading by age four and had spotted a Time magazine on the hall table with the cover story titled “Should We Tell Children There Is No Santa?” I remember feeling both smug and relieved to have that one settled. Then followed the burden of pretense. The last thing I wished to do was disappoint my parents and this farce seemed so important to them. I was very good at pretense but still it was a struggle for I had been taught that honesty was the greatest of all virtues. I remember having to sit on Santa’s lap at the Bon Marche in downtown Seattle and feeling like vomiting as I recited what I wanted. “Have you been good all year?” he’d ask. Of course I’d been good, but wasn’t I being bad by pretending and denying the truth? It was so confusing.

As I’ve looked at what’s happening in Congress this week I wonder if some of those elected officials aren’t experiencing that same struggle I did as a child: how to be honest and yet compelled out of loyalty to keep up the farce. I wish them resolution, relief from the conflict, and peace.

Its surely the right time of year.

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