ELEANOR’S CHRISTMAS LETTER TO FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND BLOG FANS
Do you know what I’ve discovered? No matter how hard I try, I don’t have anything original to say about Christmas. I’ve almost worried myself into a heart attack this week trying to come up with something pithy to say in my 2011 Christmas letter. I got nothing—bupkis! It’s all been done. After days of fretting, the only thing I can say is that my three favorite Christmas stories are A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation by John Hughes, and The Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd. Put those three stories together (which I watch every year) and you’ll get my humorous take on all things Christmas.
I will tell you that in my 63 years of existence, my Christmases have been touched by horror and by deep pain, but they have also been graced with weird wonderment and joy, while being tangled up in multiple cords of three-twined commercialism, with massive bows of: if the family portrait of what you think Christmas is supposed to be can go wrong, it will go wrong. My first Christmas was my first memory in life (three years old), and it found me trying to rescue my one and only toy off the top of a frozen eviction pile heaped high outside a padlocked house in The Cleve, while my mother dissolved into her first wave of schizophrenia right before my eyes. But that is the opening to my memoir (When Monsters Come Out to Play), so that Christmas story can’t be told here but hopefully will have the good fortune of being published next year. Are you listening, Santa, Baby?
You can imagine since I met my husband (White and Wonderful) thirty-eight years ago, that I have tried to “live the Christmas dream” I never had when it came to creating a wonderful holiday for my children. I always thought that if Christmas was great for the kids, then it would translate to our children all was right with the world. Sometimes I hit the target right in the bull’s-eye, and sometimes I missed it by a mile. Because as a family, you’ll never know who or what’s going to show up (or not show up) on any given Christmas, given the fine print on every family Christmas photo that says, “Have a Merry Christmas, but don’t forget when it comes to humans—all kinds of shit can hit the fan.”
All of us have the illusion that the “heart” of our family Christmases should look like an 1800’s postcard which shows an adoring family, grateful for their modest gifts (no brats screaming in protest about the presents they didn’t get), wise and caring grandparents (not grumpy or cranky at all), and contentment with our lot in life, because we’ve only known good bounty from the hand of a loving God. Even I have this Christmas illusion which is pretty pathetic because there are never any black people to be found in these “perfect” portraits. Have you ever noticed that?
If I were putting paint on canvas, my portrayal of Christmas would always be with warm colors, cordial people (including black and brown people all over the painting), loving smiles full of laughter and joy, and lots of good food and drink. No one would ever get sick—no one would ever be short-tempered. No family member would ever get Alzheimer’s, and no women would get breast cancer. No planes would ever be late traveling home for Christmas, no toilets would ever overflow, no parents would ever argue, no teenagers would ever run away, no one would die on or near Christmas, no parent would lose his/her job, and no home would be foreclosed upon. But the problem we all live with is that we all have weird relatives (and we’re just a little bit crazy ourselves), patchy histories, economic downturns, latent jealousies, death in our midst, and unresolved hurts. So when we gather together for the holidays we sit down before the Christmas tree with a powder-keg of the crazies in a Griswold moose glass for our family Christmas toast.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation “Eggnog Moose Glass”/Google Image
Addams Family/Google Image
Some of us share Christmas with parents who love each other in a weird sort of way, but the kids are bat-shit crazy and borderline psychotic. Of course, upon closer analysis of the extended family (uncle, grandmamma, and the butler), we see why the kids never had a chance to be sane and in reality should never be left alone with the uncle, grandmamma, or (god-forbid) Lurch, the butler.
The Griswolds (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation)/Google Image
Before the economic downturn, many of us had slightly upper middle-class families where the husband worked at some ball-crushing job just living for his year-end bonus that he managed to lose just before Christmas. That bonus would have made everything “perfect” for his family—from award-winning holiday lights and tree—to the perfect roast, perfect gifts, and ultimate Christmas family portrait. The only problem is that neither he nor his family is perfect, and no matter how upper-middle class you and I become, we’ll always have the type of relatives who join us for the holidays because we have money and they don’t, who proudly announce: “Shitters full!” They belong to us for a reason—they are God’s gift to keep us humble.
The Gallaghers in “Shameless”/Google Image
There are a few of us (maybe a lot more now since the emergence of the 99%) who grew up with the Gallaghers (of Showtime fame) as a family, and we are a mess as a family unit—“every six ways from Sunday.” This was more my type of family base as a kid—only instead of alcohol being the co-parent, schizophrenia was.
Huxtable TV Family/Google Image
Most of us would like to be the Huxtable family—smart and beautiful—with a lawyer and doctor for parents who are just perfect with children. The children are smart, respectful, and never, ever do drugs or walk on the wild side. All their family crises can be solved in 30 minutes. This is the exact type of family I tried to recreate with my own children once I became an adult (with an uber-Christian patina), given my ignoble beginnings (minus two of the kids and recasting Bill Cosby as a white man to match WW, of course). But unlike the TV sitcom where the events are controlled by writers, “shit happens,” and reality really messes with the Huxtable image in a way no sitcom script could ever convey and still remain funny.
I am discovering that we all have the ability to have a couple of perfect Christmases, but “perfect” is not always our due. With the DNA of our families, the sins we’ve committed against each other, and the devastation of living on Earth and what it can do to us, all we can do is dip ourselves in love and hope for the best when we cross the same threshold. This year our family will come together in its total configuration, for the first time in a long time, and we are beyond ecstatic about this holiday because we know more than life itself, it is about us all being together—laughing, eating too much, cuddling, watching movies, cooking together, and sharing portions of the scary stories of our journeys that have made us the resilient family that we are. But before anybody steps foot in my house (family, friend, or fan), I’m making all my guests read and observe the following Christmas vacation rules:
Leave your egos at the door
Come together with a servant’s heart willing to help each other
Share (just like in kindergarten)
Let go of your anger
Embrace each other with love and forgiveness
Repent for the wrongs you’ve done to one another
Flush the memories of the hurts done to you down the toilet
Don’t rehash the past (what is done is done and it can’t be undone)
Appreciate everything you receive as a present, even if you don’t wear hats or listen to country music
Listen (really listen with every fiber of your being) to each other’s stories, because they carry multiple secrets about our joys, our pain, our hopes, and our dreams
For the uber-religious in our midst—turn down the volume and listen (don’t, I say, DON’T go ballistic like you did that time over an Obama for President button pinned to a wig-head stand [to tell you the truth, I had forgotten it was there], assuming you knew what I was thinking). Remember, “When you assume, you make an ass. . .”
No disparaging gay jokes or racial humor!
Bring genuine hugs and kisses because that works for all genders and races.
For the “I don’t believe in God”—unplug your ears and listen, you may learn something.
Say “I love you” in a sincere manner at least once to every family member and friend before you leave.
No politics allowed!
We all know what you feel about everything—we’ve seen your Facebook pages, remember. We’re just going to come together as “family” and our only political platform is love.
Actually, I didn’t quite get it right at the beginning of this Christmas letter. My favorite Christmas story which infuses all Christmas stories is the original one—the birth of my Messiah, whose name they called “Immanuel.” Immanuel means, “God with us,” and it means to me the hope and healing needed to survive our families and the other families of man that don’t quite get it right when it comes to cherishing our hearts and our existence, our bodies, and our dreams.
Merry Christmas to you and to us all
May the love of God be with you and yours, today and everyday!
In any case, if you need me or want to get in touch, I’ll be home for Christmas. Love, Eleanor
“A scientist said, making a plea for exchange scholarships between nations, ‘The very best way to send an idea is to wrap it up in a person.’ That was what happened at Christmas. The idea of divine love was wrapped up in a Person.” – Halford E. Luccock
All text and photos by Eleanor and John Tomczyk © 2011 , except where otherwise noted.
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