Me? Not a fan of Christmas. The materialism makes me sad; the stress over gift-giving and tension that goes into the "perfect day" just leaves me tired and empty. It becomes so routine and expected that the kindness and generosity is stripped away. People get mad at me because I say I don't want anything for Christmas, "Well I HAVE to get you something," they bark. And I think, "No. No, actually, you don't."
(For what it's worth, I feel similarly about weddings, though my own ended up being wonderful, mostly because my family and close friends understand and accept me for the grimpy, grinchy cynic that I am.)
That said, while I eschew gifts and church and stories about dear lord baby Jesus, there is one Christmas tradition that I love: the Christmas Tree Star commercial from Eat'n Park.
Eat'n Park is a Denny's-style restaurant chain as ubiquitous in Pittsburgh as Italian-American men in tracksuits. There are A LOT of them. Eat'n Park, while nothing special, gives me fond memories of all the phases of my adult life. As soon as my friends and I turned 16, we borrowed our parent's Jeeps and Honda Accords and drove to the franchise that bordered the next school district. We nursed weak, tepid coffees for hours, vying for the attention of the guys from Latrobe and waving off the waitresses who tried to kick us out. Later, when I was in college and home for the summers, I met my mom at the Eat'n Park near the hospital where she works, and we ate fruit salads and muffins and talked about everything. A few years after that, when my grandma developed Altzheimer's and moved to a care facility, I went once a week with my grandfather to the Eat'n Park near his house, and we ate eggs and toast and drank that same awful coffee. Some days we talked alot - one of us telling stories that sounded fantastic and improbable to the other, two generations apart - and other mornings we ate our breakfasts in a comfortable silence.
There are hints, in the paragraph above, as to the origins of my grinchiness. In case you missed them, here they are: I miss my family 365 days a year, but Christmas is especially hard. I miss my grandparents and my parents and my brother. I miss our dear family friends who are as much a part of the Cavicchio holiday as any blood relative. I miss watching Tucker, the Golden Retriever I grew up with, gaze at the christmas tree, which he typically befriended early in the holiday season and subsequently spent many hours a day admiring. I miss the party we had every Christmas Eve, for family and friends and neighbors. I miss the quirky guests who just wouldn't leave even though the wine was gone and we were doing dishes and it was nearing 1:00 am. I miss good Italian food. I miss Christmas day napping and reading. I miss skiing after Christmas, every day for the whole week, until the New Year. I miss being so close to home.
I know what you're thinking, and yes, I could go home for Christmas. Why don't you, you say? Why are you bitching about something you can change with a click of your mouse and your Visa card, you ask? Because my home is here now. Because I need to give this place a chance to matter to me like that place does. Because I don't want to be away from my husband and dogs for the holidays, even holidays I refuse to acknowledge. Because I owe it to myself and Brad to make our holidays OURS, to develop our own traditions.
And we're working on it. We try to ski every Thanksgiving, even if it's lousy snow. It sort of marks the unofficial end to climbing season and start of ski season, and it's always nice to share our first (or one of our first) ski tours of the winter with each other and our close friends. We've spent Turkey Day skiing with Matt, Ed and Mitchell, all dear friends and current and former housemates (all of whom belong in the housemate hall of fame).
And for Christmas, we're starting to establish similar traditions. We ski on Christmas morning - that much is certain. We've spent Christmas Day with the guys mentioned above, as well as with Chris and Ari and, a rare treat in the Wasatch, our two dogs. I'll never, ever forget hearing Chris, who was a fairly new skier, shout, "Can you please call off the dogs?" as he struggled to stay upright in the White (or was it Pink?) Pine area of Little Cottonwood. Arnie and Red were so excited to ski with him that they were leaping around him and in front of him and bumping into him and trying to chase him. Poor Chris didn't quite have his ski legs on, and at one point, the three of them went down in pile of fur and limbs and skis and poles. Chris emerged smiling, of course. He always did.
We have another Christmas tradition as well: we don't exchange store-bought gifts, opting instead to just spend time with each other - whole entire days together are rare for us in the winter due to Brad's work schedule, so when we get them, we honor them. We sleep in. I drink coffee, which Brad makes for me. We go skiing. We come home and play with the dogs. We (ahem, Brad) build a big fire. We play Scrabble. We hang no lights or decorations, and the closest thing we have to a Christmas tree is the chopped pine lining the house, waiting for its turn in the stove.
It's not what I grew up doing on Christmas. It's not what Brad grew up doing on Christmas. But it's what we know and what makes us happy, so moving forward, while a part of me will always miss the weird Cavicchio family tradition of Christmas lasagna with Grandma's meatballs, it will become the right thing.