Every family is whacky and has its quirks. In continuing with that tradition, my own family has its own. For starters, when Christmas comes around every year, the entire top of our family Christmas tree is missing because, per my mother, it is “demasiado grande” (translation from Spanish: too big). So for years now, the family tree that gets put up has never seen the top tier get mounted because the tree is so large and massive, that it simply cannot go atop without crashing into the ceiling. Instead, the top portion is kept in a box (if you haven’t guessed by now, it is a fake tree) and stowed away faithfully until the next year, when it also, will never make it to the top of the tree. And in its place is a humongous bow and a lighted angel or whatever new thing my mother has decided will be the illuminated centrepiece.
My family is not a quiet bunch. No, that is a dream that I have never been able to experience. I’ve seen movies where families sit around quietly discussing things and having normal conversations, but this, is not our family. On this day, my parents usually host the day’s events which will play to an endless soundtrack of loud, latin music. Fast-paced Christmas-styled merengue and salsa songs, tracks that last for hours, which my father has put together on his DJ iPod. Occasionally, Nat King Cole will be playing, but that is always short-lived.
In the morning (or really, afternoon, which is the time we can finally gather everyone together), we sit around the tree while my Dad puts on his Santa hat and hands out the gifts. It can get really confusing because, undoubtedly, someone will put the wrong sticky or post-it (me) on the wrong gift and then it turns into a session of trying to figure out which wrapped gift is for whom. We all open our gifts. Some are more satisfied than others. There is an occasional side-eye from someone who wasn’t totally into what they got. They get called out on it. There is too much gift wrap paper. And there is always at least one gift that never gets opened because it was meant for someone not in our family, who has not come to claim it, sometimes for years. Yes, I said years. That is not a typo.
There is a lot of food. And wine. And lots of my brother trying to taste-test everything and getting yelled at by the chef (my mother) to “get out of there” (the kitchen). My nieces and nephews are all on their phones and trading gossip about their school stories. I worry about them. Sure, they are growing, but they are as nutty as ever and it’s equal parts happy and frightening that these teenagers will one day be leading future generations. My father is asking, a hundred times now, when dinner will be ready and is told to calm down and relax (he never does). My sister is late, once again, with the dish she was supposed to bring. She says, “Oh I can just do it fast!” every year. She is never prepared. So we’ve come to start prepping things for her, on account that she will be late.
We eat. It’s a bit like the The Cosby Show dinner table. There is too much food and too much talking and laughing and well, a banquet. The table seatings took forever to figure out. We say grace beforehand, led by my mother, and it is always too long, “Two minutes” someone murmurs (two minutes being the shortest version possible), and it is always over in two minutes. And no matter what, every year, after we have sat down and begun to eat, some guests arrive, after the time they were supposed to, just as we are about to dig in. This never fails. It happens every single year. Then there is a dish-washing extravaganza. Too many plates and turkey and ham and rice and pastries left over.
Oh. I almost forgot my favorite part. For the better part of a thousand years (yes, I am really a vampire), I have helped my mother write her Christmas cards. Seems like an easy thing, right? Well, it’s not. You see, she has upwards of 200 people to send cards to and makes me hand-write every single one of them (because “typed isn’t as formal”).
They are never short messages and each card is carefully selected by her watchful eye and I am told the words to transcribe way too fast and then told my handwriting looks bad or that I am doing a lackluster job and that I need to be quiet because there is a science to this (and I wouldn’t expect anything less from Mrs. Clause). We disagree about these cards and my hand hurts from writing and I tell her it’s not necessary to write so many things and I want to stab my eye out with a pen, because, well, it’s a Christmas tradition. Fifty dollars’ worth of stamps, envelopes and snowman stickers later—it is absolutely a tradition. And of course some of these cards are going international so those in particular must be done first.
There is also a plastic Jesus floating around, but that is another story altogether.
Then everyone starts talking about where we will spend next Christmas. “Jamaica!” someone says. “Mexico!” “Florida!” And we map out how this trip will pan out and it gets pretty involved and the details are so intricate and this far-away trip never happens. Next year we will be sitting around the dinner table, with the late guests, next to the topless tree, talking over the speedy merengue that is playing in the background.
Without my family of whackadoos, there just wouldn’t be the craziness that I have come to know as Christmas. So even if they are a bit nutty, I am thankful. For their loudness, for their cheer, for their particular brand of crazy.