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My night before Christmas

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Holiday Guide 2010


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It’s 3 a.m. on Christmas morning, and I’m lying on an air mattress on the floor of my parents’ living room, wide awake. It’s the same place I’ve spent a decade’s worth of Christmas Eve overnights, and it’s where I’d probably spend the next decade as well, if my four younger siblings – none of whom can part with the idea of a traditional Christmas morning at mom and dad’s house, where we all grew up – had any say in the matter.

Every year I wake up around the same time with a mild anxiety attack, check the clock and feel relieved that I still have two more hours before evil holiday elves possess the members of my family, turning us into petulant, mewling semblances of ourselves. On Christmas morning, the warm, familial holiday sentiments we indulge in on Christmas Eve, when we gather together for the first time, sometimes in almost a year, melt away; they’re replaced with the cold, prickly feelings that arise when a bunch of 20- and 30-something siblings bicker like 5-year-olds over who ate the last piece of pumpkin pie or whether it’s more appropriate to have the TV on or off while opening presents.

It usually starts at 5 a.m., when my brother, who can’t seem to let the Christmases of his childhood go, will wake up to plug in the Christmas lights on the massive tree that sits about three feet from where I’m trying to sleep. He likes to bask in the glow of the blinking lights and gaze at the indulgent mountain of presents my mother has piled under the tree marked with tags labeled “love Santa.”

As if my role in this family holiday drama has been scripted, I will soon grow irritated with the fact that my brother is 28 years old and still insists on getting up at the crack of dawn to relive the giddy excitement he felt about Christmas when he was a kid. Likewise, he will soon grow irritated that I am trying to sleep in the middle of his holiday fantasy. Maybe he’ll kick the edge of the air mattress when he walks by, or passive-aggressively turn the TV on (tuned to whatever channel plays the Yule log burning in a fireplace, set to the sounds of Muzak Christmas carols). I will then revert to my horrid, seething teenage self and start railing on him. Loudly. Waking up everyone in the house with the same lack of aplomb I accuse him of showing.

My mother, hearing the ruckus, will then get out of bed and try to talk sense into her two quarreling adult children. We will settle down, 
scowling, my brother grumbling under his breath about how I ruin Christmas morning for him every year, me grumbling under mine about how 
ridiculous it is that he refuses to act like an adult.

She will retire to the kitchen and start making breakfast. While she beats the eggs, she is also grumbling – mostly about how my brother and I can’t just shut up and enjoy a nice family Christmas without fighting.

But there is no such thing as a nice family Christmas without fighting in our house – fighting is part of the holiday ritual. Other families bake or attend midnight mass or sing happy birthday to the baby Jesus – our 
tradition is to vent a year’s worth of bottled up frustration and emotion at one another in a bright and festive setting.

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