Christmastime, for me, has always been a time of reflection—remembering those who are no longer with us and wishing we could forget those who still are. I happened to be shuffling through some photos the other day and was reminded of the Christmas I am about to relate to you. So grab some hot mulled cider and a plain doughnut, and join me on yet another sleigh ride through Yuletide Hell…
Last year, I decided to do a “themed” holiday. It was to be “An Old Fashioned Christmas” in the Buckingham Household, right out of Currier & Ives.
As a survivor of that same Christmas, I’m here to tell you that it was more like something out of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Picture Norman Rockwell beating up a small child, and you’ve got the idea.
To start with, I managed to wheedle the entire neighborhood into participating in a carol sing throughout the town. I secured participants by promising them that I wouldn’t give them any of my Christmas cookies that year.
At any rate, at the appointed hour on December 23, we all assembled. That crew of singers made the cast of M*A*S*H look positively normal. I had the route all planned, and so led the way on the half-mile stroll to the first house to be the beneficiary of our jolly vocalizations.
I should mention here that though I have received death threats from most of the great chefs in the country, I actually can sing. Our first number was “O Little Town of Bethlehem” into which I launched, con brio, expecting everyone else to jump in.
I got as far as “Oh little town of …” and stopped.
“Well, come on! Sing!” I cried.
“I can’t sing worth a damn, Carson,” old Corduroy Jenkins said.
This sentiment was echoed by most of the crowd, except for the ones at the back who, by this time, were so gassed on the bottle of bourbon that Alvin had brought along to keep warm that they were ready to sing anything, as long as it was “Little Brown Jug.”
Being the thorough planner that I am, I had forgotten to mention that at least a passing interest in singing would be necessary for our little adventure.
So, after five notes, that bit of Christmas magic was abandoned and everybody went home. However, even a setback like this left me with the shining visions of Rogers & Hammerstein dancing in my head undimmed. I trudged home to help decorate the tree. The “perfect” tree.
After I cleaned up the wood chips, put away the chain saw, and disposed of the now useless tree stand, my children were headed for the basement to get the ornaments and lights when…
“No, no! No lights. No ornaments. This year we’re having real candles on the tree. We’ll decorate it with strings of popcorn and cranberries. This is going to be an old fashioned Christmas!” I cried.
My husband, Stij, growled something about an Old Fashioned sounding pretty good to him right about then—but he humored me.
I had purchased a thousand tiny white candles with their accompanying tree fixtures. The tree, being two and a half feet tall, only accommodated about 75 candles; which was fortunate since, by the time we lit them all, the first ones were still burning…for a minute or two.
We went through the whole thousand in the first 90 minutes, which ended with a hasty call to the fire department.
Luckily, all that happened was that the tree burned to a crisp, the wall was scorched, Stij’s eyebrows were singed off, and I finally got that sunken living room I always wanted.
After the firemen left, following a stern warning to my husband about keeping the matches locked up, my son asked, “Where’s Tango?”
Tango is the cat—a Burmese stray who adopted us five years ago.
“The last time I saw him he was sleeping under the Christmas tree, and …OH NO!”
Resembling and outtake from a Keystone Kops short, we scoured the house in complete panic. We finally found him hiding under the stairs…or what we thought was him. I was hard to tell under a two-pound layer of built up candle wax. He looked more like a miniature, extremely pissed off Jabba the Hutt.
The typical wax removal regimen involves pouring boiling water over the coated object—obviously not an option in this case, unless one finds the prospect of holiday evisceration appealing.
Stij took one look at poor little Tango, then turned to me and said, “Well, dear, we can stick a wick in him and drape him over what’s left of the tree in what’s left of our house, if you want.”
Before I could reply, I got THE LOOK, and kept my mouth shut. It was the first smart thing I’d done all season.
Upon assessing the damage, I was really surprised he didn’t just skip THE LOOK and go straight for THE REMINGTON.
Instead, he left the room and came back with a pair of hair clippers.
Our family Christmas photo from last year, rather than framed and on the mantle, resides in a dusty album filled with photos of the relatives no one likes. This is completely understandable. This piece of Christmas nostalgia depicts two frightened children; a glowering father with no eyebrows; a charred, undecorated Christmas stick; a mother gagged with a book of Christmas carols and bound to a smoldering chair with strings of popcorn, cranberries, and boughs of holly, and a now vicious bald cat sitting on her lap with his teeth sunk to the gums into her right arm.
Fa la la la la, la la la la.