Thursday, December 24, 2009

Confessions of a Reformed Grinch

It's Christmas Eve. Any second now, my little daughter will spring out of bed, turn the Christmas tree lights on and do a check to make sure all the presents with her name on it are still under the tree. She will ask for the chocolate in her Advent chart, try to scam a gingerbread cookie before breakfast, ask to watch the Grinch and then remember that there are no more sleeps until Grandma comes and Santa comes tonight. And my smile will match hers, because I have rediscovered the joy of Christmas through my little girl's eyes.

It hasn't always been that way. For many years, Christmas was a time to be survived, dreaded and the time was spent in a state of suspended animation waiting for "it" to happen. My father's favorite Christmas companion was Cutty Sark, and his favorite target was his only daughter. Mom and I spent year after year holding our breath, waiting for daddy to get mean when the booze hit. I remember one Christmas when I almost threw a tv tray though the television because, for reasons I still don't know, my father wasn't speaking to me at Christmas and we spent Christmas dinner in stony, awkward silence as mom and I filled the gap.  Christmas was not a fun time of year.

The irony, of course, is that my father loved Christmas. He would put the Christmas carols on at the end of October, so we were well and truly sick of "O Come All Ye Faithful" by Christmas Eve. My mother decorated the house beautifully, and in those days, Christmas was spent with the Allison clan, like all our holidays then.  We usually went to mass on Christmas morning, and then either the Allisons came to us or we went to them. Either way, I tried to keep out of dad's line of fire.

I've always liked parts of Christmas. I love to buy presents for people, although wrapping is not a favorite job. I love to write and receive Christmas cards and I still send 60-70 every year. When I was an awkward, zero self esteem teen, I discovered that not everyone baked from scratch and thought that Christmas cookies, and people who bake them, are brilliant. From that point on, I turned out dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies. I tried a new kind every year, often baking 7-8 different kinds and even branched out to making my own hand-dipped (3 freaking days to make) truffles and dipped cherries. I added cheesecake a few years ago. The "wow" factor I got from my baking boosted my shaky self esteem and made me feel better about myself...for a little while anyway. 

Times change. My uncle Ken and Aunt Helen Allison both died young and the Allison boys moved away. We moved to Kitchener and started spending Christmas with my father's family instead. Christmas Eve at Donovans is still a must-do, happy event, even though we lost Aunt Kay just after Christmas a couple of years ago.  After dad died, it was often just mom and I. After I married, we started the tradition of always hosting Christmas, and my mom and Dave's parents come to us.

Still, some legacies are harder to shake, and Christmas remained a tough time of year. No one is yelling at me in a booze infused rage anymore, but I still did not count Christmas as a favorite time of year. Too much work, too much hassle...and then our daughter arrived.

Whatever our personal opinion, we try to make Christmas magical for our kids. I've cut back significantly on the amount of baking I do, but have continued with the family favorites-shortbread, sugar cookies, gingerbread and melting moments. I jettisoned the truffles a few years ago, and Christmas still came. This year, my daughter was old enough to help decorate the cookies, and although it took 5 times as long to bake 4 pans of gingerbread, the pride on her face was worth it.

After skidding into Christmas last year, I put my foot down and the decorations were completed by the end of November. My daughter helped decorate the Christmas tree, and has assumed responsibility for turning on the tree lights, a job she takes very seriously. She started school this year, and her excitement about Christmas has been contagious. You can't be dour when there is a small voice singing "rudolph" to herself in the back seat of the car.  Her enthusiasm has been staining backwards on my heart, erasing the years of pain and making room for the happier memories that had been swamped by the pain.  Through the eyes of a child, I'm rediscovering the beauty and excitement of the season.

May you find small pockets of joy in this season. May you feel peace and love. Two acquaintances of mine have terminal cancer, and this will be their last Christmas. I wish them a day free of pain and full of happy memories, and I wish their families the best Christmas ever to treasure in years ahead.  I wish you all happy memories, unexpected moments that make you laugh, and I send you a hug, peace and love. Merry Christmas and all the best for 2010.