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Christmas with Antonio

2004-12-25 - 11:53 a.m.

I have a sad confession to make: I'm really not up for Christmas this year, and I haven't been for a few years now.

I don't know what it is. Part of me feels like the magic starting eluding me when I went off to college. For the first time, I was not involved in putting up the tree and the nativity seen. In past years, my mom and I would haul out the tree from the garage, pile plastic branch upon plastic branch on the aluminum pole, wrap around the lights (I still remember the year when I finally insisted that we check which lights blinked and which ones didn't BEFORE we put them on the tree and arrange accordingly, having gotten sick of our tree looking like it was intermittently decapitated every year), and hang up the plethora of ornaments that we had collected over the years. I remember one year I decided to place the ornaments on the tree in my own little order, starting with angel and star ornaments on top, going down to birds, land-based objects, and finally putting anything fish-related on the bottom. I was that kinda kid. Even better than the tree was putting up the nativity scene, which was a huge, intricate monstrosity that included, alongside the many shephers, farm animals, and three wise men complete with camels, an assortment of random figures that might be found in Judea around 0 AD, such as artisans, Roman soldiers, and a scantily clas water-bearer. There were also some decidedly anachronistic figures, but, as with most things in Texas, what really mattered was the size.

And what really mattered was not that these things were up. What mattered was putting them up, singing Christmas carols as we went, getting in the mood for the season. It was a ritual that meant a lot, and once I moved out, the tree and the nativity scene stopped being something that I noticed. It was always that building process that made me remember which ornaments had been made for me by my grandmother, and which ones I had made as a kid, and which ones were horrifyingly expensive crystal confections that I had insisted my mother fork over money for because, hey, it was Christmas. This year, I didn't even get to see my mom's tree at all, what with her living in the valley. My dad's tree, with it's expensive decorations that get put up by the maid every year, doesn't cut it.

There's also the fact that I'm in my twenties and single, occupying a weird interstitial space when it comes to Christmas. I'm in the between space between being a kid and being a parent, arguably the two types of people that Christmas is built for. Kids get spoiled at Christmas, and parents do the spoiling. Sure, aunts and uncles and cousins and so on get to spoil the kids too, but it isn't quite the same experience. And yes, I recognize that I still have parents, but I am no longer a kid, which means that my Christmas present is usually a check--which I love, don't get me wrong--because they don't know enough about what I do or don't have to get me something, so the wishlist and surprise factors are gone.

Which brings me to the biggest reason why I dread Christmas: gift giving. The past few days have brought the Hell that only an outlet mall full of deranged soccer moms can bring. I hate the crowds and the lines and the parking and the traffic and the consumerism. I hate having to play guessing games about what people want, because even when I know something about a person's taste, I don't necessarily know what they own or not. My mom is usually the worst, as all mothers are. My mother always says she doesn't want jewelry because she has enough, but whenever I get her anything besides a sparkly rock she gets that look. You know the look I'm talking about. The look that may think it appears grateful and excited but indicates instead that she wanted a sparkly rock and that she wouldn't wipe her ass with what you thought was a heartfelt gift.

Because of the pressures involved, and also because of my own inability to express sincere gratitude at frankly stupid gifts, I have tried, rather desperately, to convince my family that all I want for Christmas (and birthdays, for that matter) is gift certificates to stores that sell books, music, and movies. It doesn't matter whether it's a big chain or an indie store; all I ever want is books, music, and movies. That is what I spend my money on. Every single year I tell anyone who asks that a Borders gift certificate is, arguably, the perfect gift (although while living in Austin I preferred Book People and Waterloo Records, and in Berkeley Cody's Books and Rasputin Records). Every year the majority of my relatives fail me. The first gift I got this year was a gift certificate to The Gap. Every single person whom I have mentioned this present to has laughed out loud, because everyone who knows me, even a little, knows that I hate The Gap and would never, ever wear anything from there. Even when I was at my crazy-dieting thinnest nothing from there ever looked good on me, and the sweatshop labor is a huge fuckin' turn-off. The worst thing about this gift is that I can't re-gift it, because no one I know shops at The Gap. It is $20 dollars that, had my relatives been paying any attention over the last 12 years of my life, might not have been uselessly wasted. Although, the amusement value of the gift alone is worth $20, so it ain't all bad.

Of course, this is nothing compared to the hideous things I receive from my aunt every year, a garage-sale aficionado with a passion for Christmas kitsch. This year, I scored a plastic sculpture of two snowmen going ice fishing and a two-foot reindeer-shaped aluminum candlestick. Yes. Of course, as Shkbob said, the whole purpose of aunts is to get bad Christmas presents, so I can't hold anything against her.

Now, before you all abandon me as a gross materialist, I want to tell you my favorite part of Christmas this year. We had Christmas early for various reasons, so a couple of nights ago we gathered at my aunt's for tamales (which, being a vegetarian, I didn't eat) and gift exchange. My mother, for the first time ever, was absolutely explicit about what she wanted: a massage wand from The Sharper Image with three interchangeable heads. If you've read this diary, you know that I was not about to let a gift like that go by without extensive jokes at The Notorious MOM's expense, and my cousins were right there with me to keep the jokes in rapid fire. Within five minutes, the massag--oh, fuck it, the vibrator--had been christened Antonio (as in Banderas) and, as my mother's official title where she works is "President," had been given the official title of, wait for it . . . Vice President of Internal Affairs. Before to long, we were joking about blackouts in the valley due to a massive drain on the power supply. We were nearly falling off our seats, happy that the little kids had no idea what we were talking about.

That was the good bit. Not the presents or the decoration or the food or the overwhelming sense of obligation, but the few minutes spent laughing together. That was worth it.

I'm turning 25 in less than a month, and I'm kinda freaked about it. One thing I think about is whether or not I'll have a family of my own, and when it will happen, and what will I do when Christmas comes along. It occurs to me that there are a lot of relatives I won't see once the older generation passes on. There's certainly a whole lot of family that I have no desire to see. But I'm hoping that I'll be able to hang on to some of them, because I want to be able to give my kids, should they come around, a big Christmas full of aunts and uncles who spoil them rotten and then give them crap gifts when they're older, and hopefully have a moment when I'm gray and they're in their twenties, when I can tell them about their grandmother's little friend, Antonio, and how he came into the family. I hope that family will include all the friends that I've been hanging out with this season, and this year, and in years past.

For everyone out there celebrating Christmas, I hope you are surrounded by your loved ones, eating a good meal and having a good laugh. The same goes for people not celebrating today; no reason why you should get left out just because you're not a fan of patriarchal appropriations of pagan goddess festivals. I'm still wishing for peace on Earth, goodwill towards men, women, and the transgender of all ages, not to mention for Orlando Bloom to show up naked in my bed. I'd prefer the first, but if it ain't in the cards, I feel like I should at least get the second for an hour or two.

And finally, a bit of a song:

"Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow.
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now!"

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