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HOLIDAY GUIDE

My night before Christmas

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Sometimes our holiday arguments are of the garden variety – someone gets on someone else’s nerves and bickering ensues – but it’s never 
really Christmas until someone is deeply hurt (either physically or emotionally), someone has cried and someone has stormed out of the house in anger.

There was the year, for instance, when I pulled over to the side of the New York State Thruway and tossed my brother out of the car for calling my boyfriend at the time a little bitch; the time one of my sisters announced that she hated Christmas and retired to her room and refused to be comforted by anyone until dinner; the time the weak bleat of a 
carbon monoxide detector during dinner sent everyone into a tailspin over whether it was absolutely mandatory or absolutely stupid to call the volunteer fire department to make sure we weren’t going to pass out and die over Christmas cookies and tea.

Then there was the year my former brother-in-law got his car stuck in my parents’ driveway and asked me to help him get it out; I gunned the gas and ran him over while he and my father tried to push the car out of its spot. I spent the rest of that Christmas in the emergency room, silently fretting that my sister would have to take care of that loser for the rest of her life – and it would be all my fault. Fortunately, he was fine but for some soft-tissue injuries. Even more fortunate: They were divorced a couple of years later.

One year one of my sisters decided to move to Colorado … she chafed at living at home with my parents and suddenly decided she would go live in the mountains of Gunnison with her high-school sweetheart. For some reason – perhaps because our holidays weren’t sufficiently stressful that year – she left on Christmas day. We opened presents and had dinner and stumbled through our usual dramas, then awkwardly said our goodbyes as she trundled off into the snow, got into her VW Jetta and hit the road, promising to call when she stopped in Indiana.

No matter the circumstance, it always ends the same: Someone ends up crying, someone wails about how dysfunctional our family seems. My dad goes back to bed while the kids battle things out, then someone gets blamed for upsetting my mother who only wants a “normal” Christmas. What she still doesn’t seem to understand, after multiple Christmases that have gone on pretty much the same way: This is a normal Christmas. A good Christmas, in fact. Cathartic, even.

At least for her kids.

This year is the first Christmas I won’t be spending with my family. It’s too far away and too expensive to make the trip from Florida to New York, so I’ll be spending it instead with family down here. My Christmas will be adult and subdued, and everyone will probably drink and be merry and civilized all day and well into the night.

I’m rather looking forward to it, but I’ll be honest: I’m going to miss that middle-of-the-night anxious waking, and the chance to go another round with my brother over his childish 5 a.m. tradition.

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