“The Stockings Were Hung, On The Wall With A Nail…”

Now that I’m nearly 50-years old I can say Christmas doesn’t really do it for me anymore. I’m not religious, so that’s a big mark against the true reason for the season. But really, it’s a just a big hassle; expectations, expensive, the clutter of the decorations all thru the house, and Christmas songs. I know that’s a pretty humbug thing to say, but call me Scrooge, yo.

Of course, as a kid I was a little different in my view of Christmas. First of all, it was an automatic two weeks off from school for one. I mean, that’s a gift in itself. Who wouldn’t be thrilled for late nights, sleeping in, and a freezer stocked with Totino’s Party Pizzas and a two-liter of Mountain Dew for that late night fuel? I mean, if it was just a two week vacation from school at the end of December I would have been thrilled, gifts and the Charlie Brown Christmas Special be damned.

There was also the whole gifts under the tree thing. I mean, I was about as religious then as I am now. I saw church and Jesus and hellfire and damnation as nothing more than a way for Christianity(or any organized religion) to control the masses. Get them all on the same page as far as viewing things as “sin” and “bad”. Being gay? Bad. Bombing planned parenthood? Righteous. Welfare? Bad. Pastor driving a luxury sedan and a full rock band setup in the sanctuary? Righteous. Abortion? Really, really bad. Bullying and shaming a young woman going to have a legal medical procedure done? Righteous.

Anyways, even though I saw organized religion as mind control and the world’s oldest grift, I still wanted a Millennium Falcon and a remote-controlled R2-D2 under the Christmas tree. My parents believed in God and worshiped in their own personal way, but church in their minds was pretty much a hypocrite’s game. But we did Christmas with gifts and cheese dips and our annual viewing of Frosty The Snowman like all the other middle-class Midwestern households.

Each of my parents would take me out separately to buy the other a gift from “me”. Some Jean Nate for mom, and a shirt or later on a cassette tape for dad. My brother for years would get a box of baseball trading cards, then when he hit 9th grade he started getting music for Christmas. By the time I hit fifth grade I was getting equal parts heavy metal cassettes and GI Joe and Transformer toys. I liked my hard rock, man. But I still enjoyed realistic war machines and spending two hours attaching decals to an F-15 fighter jet or fully-armed chopper.

I think the one thing I remember and enjoyed the most was the extended family Christmas get-together. This was when our family would travel 20-30 miles to either one of my mom’s siblings home and her whole side of the family would get together for a big meal, bigger desserts, and a gift exchange. Most of the time we’d go to my Aunt Brenda’s as she had the biggest house out of all the siblings. It was a giant two-story house that was an apartment building at the turn-of-the-century. There was plenty of room to spread out and the kids to act stupid(that’s what they do when they’re hopped up on pumpkin rolls, fudge, and soda.) My mom was the oldest of five, so there were lots of cousins to play with then. I had two cousins that were roughly my age and we got along great. Typically these gatherings were on Christmas Eve, and there was still plenty of Christmas break ahead of us so plans were hatched as to who was going to come to who’s house and sleepover a few days during break. We’d have new toys, stocking candy, and lots of energy to burn off.

Given that my mom’s parents split when she was 18, we typically had two of these get-togethers to go to. My mom’s mom would be at the sibling’s house, while my mom’s dad usually had something at his house with his stepkids. Those were pretty weird gatherings as his wife’s family were just odd. His house was smaller, too, so there was really no place to hide. One year we had Christmas at a cabin in a state park. Trapped in the wilderness in the freezing cold, there was no place to go but in this one room cabin and listen to my grandpa try and play Christmas songs on a ukulele. Me and my two cousins went outside in our coats just to burn off some energy, which my grandpa didn’t care for. At all.

My dad’s mom and dad, they’d come over on Christmas day. Where my mom’s side of the family was pretty big, my dad’s side was not. My dad was the youngest of two, and my uncle was not around. He joined the Air Force after college and married a Greek woman. They lived in Athens with their son and only made a handful of trips to the US for visits. So my grandma and grandpa Hubner would come over on Christmas day for dinner. They were pretty quiet get-togethers, and the only times I ever saw my parents drink whiskey.

As we got older and got married and had kids we still had these gatherings. When our kids were little they were still fun, mainly because it gave my wife and I a break as parents and we could quietly eat food as someone else entertained our children. Cousins had kids of their own and changes in lifestyles, politics, and hair styles became evident at these gatherings. It was still nice to see my cousins(we remained close into adulthood), but seeing our quiet, well-mannered kids keeping their distance from the loud, mulleted children and grandchildren of the extended family wrestling in the living room was less fun. The family prayers and church talk seemed pretty empty when folks were sneaking off outside to have a smoke or down a beer. I wasn’t straight edge or anything, but this was a family gathering with little kids, so getting a buzz seemed weird.

As our kids got older those gatherings just weren’t for us. Weird religious and political divides made these get-togethers uncomfortable, so we just bowed out. Besides, I preferred spending the holidays at home with our family unit, which included my parents and my brother, sister-in-law, and niece. We started our own traditions, which was mainly hanging out Christmas Eve watching movies and eating snack-y foods. Indulge in a cocktail or three and we open our Secret Santa gifts as well. Secret Santa was(and still is) a tradition, too. We’d all pull names and buy something or a few little things for $20 for that person. This is just the five of us(with someone also grabbing the dog a few things, too.) We started doing that around 2014 and it continues to today.

Christmas is for the religious and for those that still find that magic is real in the world. As long as my kids(now almost all adults) are still down for gifts, snacks, and movie watching on Christmas Eve then I’ll be down for it, too. I mean, I still enjoyed it into my early adulthood. Back before life would occasionally throw us through the fire, and made me realize there isn’t really magic in the world. That what we thought was magic as kids was actually just people in our lives making us believe in magic. Our parents, our friends, grandparents, or some random stranger performing a random act of kindness on us. While a large swath of the population gives all the credit to a baby in a manger, three wiseasses, and a heavenly cloud city, I’m still trying to find the magic within those around me. I get surprised once in a while when I do find it. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does it’s like a “power-up” for the soul.

Even though Christmas isn’t what it once was when I was a kid, or when my own kids were still kids, I hang onto the little traditions we started. They keep the growing pessimist in me at bay. That’s magic enough for me.

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