“Our worst fights have always happened during Christmas. I have always bought my own Christmas gift and wrapped it and set it under the tree pretending it was from him. He has spent all of our Christmas’ retiring early to bed. Disengaging. Or drunk.”
When he was in elementary school, my husband’s mother took him to his aunt’s house for a Christmas party—and then left him there without a word, without so much as a change of clothes, for months. His aunt had four kids and a superior attitude of a sister with a green card, a husband, and a mortgage. He could stay and be a grateful eight-year-old. He could watch her kids open presents. He could have left over toys already half broken from their birthdays and other Christmases. He could unwrap the present that was wrapped for unexpected guests during the holiday season. Cheap women’s cologne you buy at the drug store. A badly scented candle. A weird toy from Avon.
He asked Santa in a mall for a Star Wars action figure. He wanted a Millennium Falcom but knew better than to ask big. He’d settle for a Han Solo—even a knock down made in China and sold in Mexican swapmeets where the face of the doll didn’t quite match up to where the machines placed the eyes and the hair so everything looked slightly off and slightly cheap and slightly Mexican swapmeet.
At school, where he was trying desperately to keep a low profile and to fit in with American kids despite his lack of English and his clothes that reeked of fresh over the border (black dress leather cowboy boots and button down shirts and big belt buckle like he was some mini weekend brown cowboy ready for Sunday school or norteno singing). The white teachers got stuff ready for the Christmas program. In the nativity scene all the angels were white, Mary, Joseph, the baby doll stand in for Jesus, the shepherd, even the wise men from the Orient—all white. It was someone’s bright idea to make the brown kids in the ESL class sing “Feliz Navidad” like they must have sung it in their home country. My husband had never heard it before and they made him sing and dance at the program, singing it to the little white kids—along with Cambodian refugee kids and other brown kids, because that seemed like the perfect spot for the other kids in the Christmas program.
As an American teenager, he often spent it alone or with a bottle on Santa Monica beach looking out on the ocean, thinking about disappearing. By that time, he’d been adopted by West Side jews and did Hanukah instead. It didn’t hurt as much and he was happy to eat Chinese food on Christmas.
When December rolls around my husband becomes increasingly hard to live with. He usually refuses to partake in any of the festivities. I’ve never seen him put an ornament on the tree and usually I’m the one who does Christmas. I do the shopping, I do the baking, I do the Christmas cards, and I do the singing in choir and the decorating of the house.
Our worst fights have always happened during Christmas. I have always bought my own Christmas gift and wrapped it and set it under the tree pretending it was from him. He has spent all of our Christmas’ retiring early to bed. Disengaging. Or drunk.
I’m the one who puts water in the tree to keep it fresh. He’s the one who volunteers to chop the tree up for kindling afterwards.
I insist on keeping the tree up ‘til Epiphany. I put up my grandmother’s nativity scene despite not having any religious affiliation anymore. I put the three kings on the opposite side of the living room and slowly move them over to present their gifts to the baby Jesus.
I have no problems with myths; I thrive on creation.
Our children are 10 and almost 12 and still believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, leprechauns, the Easter Bunny. Anything really—except Jesus. I’m floored by their belief, as I have felt so very little. But I do believe that people can change. Perhaps their belief comes from me.
Our tradition has become me overcompensating for his under achieving holiday spirit. But this year, I couldn’t do it. My mother had been sick. And then I had been sick. And I had no energy to find the Christmas boxes in the storage shed nor energy to buy a tree permit and go chop one down in an area that needs thinning as is the tradition for mountain folk living in a national forest. I couldn’t really bake cookies. I didn’t send any cards. The most I could do was sit catatonic on the couch and occasionally order something online while watching sitcoms on huluplus. It was already the second week of December and there was no hint of red or green in the house.
The children started to worry and I started to cry. My husband offered to do the thing that would send most mountain people into an uproar of protest: he offered to go buy a tree from in front of Rite Aid from the Boy Scouts. My kids were beside themselves. Buy a tree?! Buy a tree?! No one buys a tree. You put hot cocoa in a well insulated thermos and you put snacks in the cooler and you borrow someone’s 4WD vehicle , go up into the mountains with a saw and determination and you cut down your tree. This is what I get for fostering a tradition with my children.
I started to cry in front of them. Something I try hard never to do. And then we were all crying. And then I went to lay down for awhile.
When I woke up, they were back from Rite Aid with a tree. They’d found three of the five boxes labeled ‘Christmas’ in the storage shed and had begun to decorate the living room and the tree. They only found one string of working lights and they didn’t get a Charlie Brown Christmas tree like I usually get when I chop one down, but instead a bushy, perfectly symmetrical cone shaped tree. The perfect kind, that you buy.
The kids did an abysmal job of decorating the living room and the tree. The ornaments all seemed to cluster towards the top, the lights somewhere around the middle and the bottom of it was completely bare. They put it in a precarious place by the corner of the living room and kitchen which would make sitting in the dining room that much more difficult from branches jutting out. They cluttered the living room with all the decorations that other people have given me that I never put out but feel to guilty to throw away.
My husband bought Christmas presents to distribute among the four of us—and the ones that come from Santa. No cards were mailed. Nothing got baked. Someone sent a box of Sees. He bought some store bought goodies. He made us drinks. He helped plan the menu and he went and picked up my friend from college who joined us. Somehow, in the absence of my well spirit, he found his.
Margaret Elysia Garcia blogs at taleasofasierramadre.com