Of all the holidays, Christmas has changed the most for me over the years. As a child everything about the holidays was exciting, like looking through the Sears Wish Book for things to ask from Santa, spending time with extended family, and not being able to sleep on Christmas Eve. And of course those unforgettable moments of opening gifts on Christmas morning with my mom, dad, and sister. It was a consistent tradition of joy every year.
But then my parents divorced, and Christmas changed. What was once a special time now suddenly had to be split and shared with separate families in different places. After opening gifts, my sister and I would call the other parent and tell them what we’d received as gifts, only to hear envy in their voice and have them ask when we were coming home.
We grew older, and eventually my sister moved across the country, and I to another city. It was only at Christmas that we’d both be home, and so a new tradition formed. As young adults, Christmas Eve was now spent drinking at a family party and then crashing at mom’s place. Christmas morning we’d make the trek to Dad’s.
That is, until Christmas 2016.
Christmas was already off to a rocky start because of a falling out between my sister and my dad. As she is a few years older than me, the divorce hit her a bit harder than me. She always resented dad for cheating on mom but kept it inside for decades. That all came out in 2016, and they weren’t on speaking terms for months. I’d asked her what our plan for Christmas day was and she told me I was on my own for visiting dad.
Christmas Eve began like any other year. My mom, stepdad, sister, and I went to a party with that side of the family. After a few hours of drinking, we were back home, lying on the couches in the living room and enjoying each other’s company. We began taking turns playing different Christmas songs, and whenever it was my turn I’d take the opportunity to play some Sufjan Christmas songs. My family is mostly accustomed to traditional Bing Crosby stuff so needless to say this was a bit out of their comfort zone.
On one of my turns, I started to play “Lumberjack Christmas.” This prompted mom to say her classic line “You’re just like your father. Why can’t you just play normal music?” Whenever I said or did something mom didn’t like, that’s what she would say. “You’re just like your father.” While it bothered me, I didn’t say anything and just changed the song to something they knew.
Eventually, mom and my stepdad went to bed. My sister and I continued to play music and chill out. I couldn’t stop thinking about mom’s comment and I began to talk to my sister about it. I told her that ever since the divorce, mom would try to poison me against dad. Any of his actions, his personality traits, everything about him was deemed horrible by mom. If I ever did something that reminded her of him, she’d say “You’re just like your father!”, or, “That’s weird!”, or “That’s something your father would like. You don’t want to be weird like your father, do you?”
I started to believe that being like my dad was the worst thing I could ever be. I’d overanalyze my actions and try to change personality traits that I thought were too similar to his. Now that I’m older, I’ve grown and realized that I love my dad and have accepted the parts of me that are like him. But, after all these years, it hurt to hear my mom say those words again. I hate that she made feel that way about my dad.
My sister and I talked for a few more minutes before we heard heavy steps coming up the stairs. Little did we know, mom was sitting at the bottom of the stairs listening to the entire conversation. Fueled by the liquor from earlier in the night, she began screaming at me.
“IS THAT HOW YOU FEEL?! YOU HATE ME?!”
“What?! You were eavesdropping this whole time? No, I don’t hate you. I just hate that you still say those things to me!”
“YOU HATE ME! YOU HATE ME!”, she begins to wail.
“No! I don’t! I don’t hate you. I just wish you would stop comparing me to dad like it’s something I should be ashamed of. It’s not right!”
“I CAN’T BELIEVE MY SON HATES ME!”
“NO MOM! I DON’T HATE YOU. SERIOUSLY, HOW CAN YOU NOT UNDERSTAND?! THOSE THINGS YOU SAID MADE ME HATE MYSELF AND YOU’RE STILL OBLIVIOUS!”
“OH! WHAT A POOR BABY! YOU HATE YOURSELF, YOU POOR BABY!”
“FUCK YOU, MOM! SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
(Yeah, so I told my mom to shut the fuck up on Christmas. What a gift.)
My stepdad runs up the stairs, wondering what the commotion is. The yelling stops and the blaming begins. They go back downstairs and my sister tells me to forget it and to get some sleep.
The next morning is hell. Mom remembers the fight, but she was too drunk, so she doesn’t remember the details. She just knows that she is mad at me. We start opening gifts and she says, “some fucking Christmas this is.” She starts tossing the gifts at me and telling me what’s inside before I even open them. She keeps muttering, “What is even the point of this? We all know what we got each other. Why even bother?”
Christmas Day continues to go downhill. I get ready to visit Dad, and my sister refuses to join me. So I go alone. When I arrive, there are gifts for both myself and my sister. Dad is surprised that my sister didn’t show up.
“I haven’t talked to your sister in months. Is she ignoring me?”
“I think so. She mentioned you guys had an argument.”
“We did. But I still thought she’d come to see me. It’s Christmas…”
“She still seemed mad. Maybe she’ll come around in time.”
He starts to cry. It was a sad and depressing cry. He regrets cheating on mom and I think, over the years, the regret really destroyed him. He cries so easily now.
We open our gifts to each other and I hang out for a bit. I give him a hug as I’m leaving, and he begins to cry again. I start to cry as well, which makes everything fall apart. What a mess.
The thing is, my wife and I were planning to try and have kids in 2017. I knew that once kids arrived on the scene our traditions would change again, so I considered that this could be the last year with our family as we were. I thought, “Is this how our tradition will end? With fighting and sadness?”
In 2017, my wife and I did end up having a beautiful baby girl. And I was right, our Christmas traditions have changed. And because she is the first grandchild on both sides of the family, everyone’s traditions have changed. She’s the main focus now, and the joy she brings everyone makes Christmas feel magical again. The Christmases of past are truly behind us.
“No one can save you from Christmases past. You’ll have to love it or hate it at last.”
That line resonates a lot with me now, as I must accept the bad Christmases of the past and it’s more important to look forward to all of Christmases of the future with my family.
Written by Anonymous