For basically ever, we've been a family of Routine when it comes to Christmas frivolity. Embarrassingly so. Like a border collie who reacts to some primal imperative and spends hours running around in the same circle. For all the years before I was married, and even a few afterward, we seldom diverted from the following Yuletide schedule:
- Attend Christmas Eve church service. Endure tacky skit enacted by Self-Proclaimed Super-Cool Reverend Who Can Speak To Today's Youth. Sing "Silent Night" with lit candles raised overhead. Enjoy the beauty of the scene while playing out pyromaniacal scenarios in my head.
- Drive home past all the houses with the tackiest Christmas decorations. Including the one that took us miles out of our way but was totally worth it, because the lawn and roof were chock-a-block with life-size figurines. The neighbors must have felt they were sleeping next to the Golden Nugget.
- Arrive home for cheese fondue, using Nixon-Era fondue set, complete with avocado-green pot and decrepit, color-coded forks.
- Awake before parents. Harass parents Noriega-style until they get the hell up.
- Open stockings and one--ONE--present from beneath the tree.
- Eat breakfast. Sneak seconds of Mom's sour-cream coffee cake.
- Open gifts one at a time, while Mom chronicles Who Gave Whom What for purposes of thank-you notes.
- Take family picture among wrapping detritus. Strive for Candid Joy Shot by stuffing wrapping paper down siblings' pajama pants.
And so this was, for decades. It was easy to take for granted; everyone in my immediate family lived within an hour of each other, and we were flexible enough to accommodate in-law obligations.
Traditions have eroded over the past few years, though, and this year they're mostly gone. My brother has moved to the West Coast. My sister is about to move and living in boxes. Mom has bronchitis. And my kids are with Mama. All of this bodes for a very low-key Dec. 25 at the parents' place tomorrow. For me, it's not even like we're celebrating Christ's birthday (which it isn't, anyway). It's more like what's left of the family is getting together because we all have the day off.
The season is still special, though. And now that family traditions are no longer a given, I know I want more than ever to relive them. Perhaps one day, all the people I love will spend Christmas under the same roof, stabbing each other with fondue forks. As for this year, which will be known in the LOD annals as the Year of Flux, I'm content to eat coffee cake with the skeleton crew. And think of all my loved ones who are scattered all across the country and who, I'm grateful to say, know who they are.