Putting the ‘No’ into ‘Noël’

Raymond Briggs - Father ChristmasThe icy hand of Christmas is around my throat once more.

I am faced with the most damnable inconvenience. My mother fell in her old folk’s home last week. She’s okay but it’s probably a combination of sleep apnea and a slowing metabolic rate that means her medication should be adjusted. However, for reasons known only to ambulance dispatch, she was driven to a hospital way off on the arse end of Creation. It’s an hour and a quarter drive in each direction thanks to this week-long storm.

The thing is, my aunt and her sister is apparently coming to town and Wodehouse jokes aside, since my dad died that’s it, the manufactured landscape can be avoided. When ever I was distant from home on Christmas, or nothing much was doing, bacon and eggs was a find Nativity dinner for me. Or, I’d do a ‘Jubilation’ dinner and be at a Chinese dinner with the Jewish families.*

The Pavlovian distaste I have for Christmas is probably deeply set. Of course, each culture has its gift-giving season and I’m sure that people all around the world have similar reasons for being less than thrilled with their celebrations.

It’s not that I was deprived. On the contrary, I had a great suburban childhood and a closet full of toys but looking back, I seem to recall that my dear mother was hospitalized in ’83 which means she’d been going off the rails for at least ten years before that but like the boiling frog, I took it for normal.

Christmas is a button that can be pushed on her.

That’s fair because each of us has one or two psychological points of heavier than normal gravity. But in her case, this translates into ‘The World Owes Me a Blank Cheque At Christmas.’ Basically, she mewls and protests endlessly a Christmas that [INSERT PERSON] has ruined Christmas by [INSERT OFFENSE]. Coupled with her tendency to spend all day bellowing orders at people like Cleopatra herself, well, I happily stayed in the kitchen and pretended to be a butler during all of the Christmas gatherings.

Well, since her husband (and my dad) died in 2010, I’ve stopped pretending. I don’t celebrate Christmas. Dad loved the groaning board full of food but I’m not much for the feast and since my mother is in a retirement home where meals are prepared, I wash my hands of it.

Now to my dilemma.

With my aunt coming into town, bloody drives out to a suburban hospital to spend time with someone whose idea of a greeting is a howl of indignation and threat to take you out of the will, will probably be on order for days on end. And my aunt will probably want to have dinner.

Perhaps I could tell her my vehicle was stolen. And that I’ve gone to work on the boats or rigs.

Just let me be the grouch that I am. And you should too. Look if all you have in common with your family is a bloody last name, for Chrissakes don’t go to the Christmas feast if you don’t want to.  You are under no obligations here except the ones you choose. Really.

I wish you a very merry Bah Humbug.

* One Christmas I was at a Chinese restaurant and reading the New York Review of Books. I recall because a Jewish politician was on the cover, probably Perez just before his body finally had enough of him and decided upon a stroke. Some jews who seemed to have New York accents were being hosted by some people who were local. 

We struck up a conversation and their questions seemed to take an uncomfortably acute interest in my biography. I realized that my bearded chin, the newspaper cover and the date conspired to give an impression. I somehow worked in into the conversation that I was not Jewish. At which point I was berated by a few of them for not being at home with my family!

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