Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Hallelujah, Holy Shit! Where's the Tylenol?"

Thus spake the ever-harried every-Dad Clark W. Griswold at the climax of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, a chronicle of one man's big-hearted, ill-fated attempt to host a "fun, old-fashioned family Christmas."

Christmas Vacation is always the first holiday movie I watch each year because I find it enacts the perfect balance of holiday cheer ... and holiday angst. Its sweet idealism and aw-shucks goodwill are perfectly balanced by the sourness of holiday stressors we all suffer. It enacts the timeless Christmas ritual of optimism and cheer struggling hard against cynicism and exhaustion. And of course, the slapstick is killer: falling off roofs! and through ceilings! attacks by maddened squirrels! sewer gas explosions! Cousin Eddie's distressingly tight pants!

Griswold family adventures on a classic road trip, a holiday to Europe, and a visit to Las Vegas are chronicled in other Lampoon films, and go comically awry--but there's something about this Christmas version of the Griswold failure-to-meet-expectation-vacation that's particularly compelling. I think that's because everyone turns into Clark Griswold at Christmas, prey to misty nostalgia, a misguided vision of what will occur when all one's nearest and dearest are crowded together with too much food and too few bedrooms, an idealized notion of what the holiday should entail, and a strong sense of incipient buyer's remorse when we realize just how much we've overextended ourselves financially. There must be a reason that my local newspaper and every magazine I pick up is running terribly earnest articles addressing holiday dread: how not to gain weight, how not to fight with your family, how not to go broke, how not to get depressed.

To help make your holiday season more Buddy the Elf ("smiling is my favorite") than Clark Griswold ("Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, kiss my ass, kiss his ass, kiss your ass ..."), I hereby humbly offer you a series of posts on putting the fun back into the season.

PCK, 2005: "Seriously, you guys need to have a baby already. Leave me alone."

Be Honest; Plan it Out; Be Strategic

Paradoxically, the key to having the kind of relaxed, joyous, spontaneously fun kind of Christmas around our house has been to have A Serious Discussion about it in early December, and pretty much every morning and evening of the week between Christmas and New Year's. Basically, Pynchon and I lay out our desires for the holiday season, what we imagine will stress us out, what we'd like to avoid, and how we'll block out the time. For example, our first year in our first apartment together, it turned out we both just wanted to cocoon on the Big Week, but felt kinda festive enough to throw fancier parties in the leadup. So on Christmas Day, we ate frozen lasagne on the couch and watched A Christmas Story and Home Alone on TV, rehashing our December cocktail parties during the commercials. What a relief, considering I had almost dragged him up to my parents' for a Fun, Old-Fashioned Family Christmas! We were in our jammies all day, and spent the day by ourselves, in our own apartment. By way of contrast, this year, we decided we wanted to have my parents come to stay with us for a couple of days, and host my sister's family for a low-key dinner on Boxing Day-ish. Every year is different, so every year we negotiate, and our prime task is to figure out what we want as a family. Just the two--now three--of us.

The hard part of this, of course, is not bowing to others' expectations: your parents', your friends', your siblings'. I have to admit that we are very lucky to have quite pragmatic parents: mine don't really fuss much about these kinds of 'events', and Pynchon's are much more interested in the religious aspects of the holiday. No perfect-centrepiece Martha Stewart or dewy-eyed Clark Griswold wannabes in either of our families. Some of you are not so lucky, I know. Over here, what we have to be careful of are our own sometimes unrealistic expectations of what the holiday might mean. Right now we're being careful to remind ourselves that Miss Baby is six months old. Let's be honest: Xmas means nothing to her, really. For goodness sake, she can't even sit up yet. We'll try to enjoy this as one more Christmas where we can really spoil each other, and watch the magic develop for her next year.

If I knew what was happening, I would sooo be yelling right now ...

Do I sound like a total grinch yet? I don't mean to: I love Christmas. I can hardly wait for December 1st to roll around, so I can break out the Johnny Mathis Christmas album (seriously). Tomorrow I'll tell you some of the things that bring me joy in the season ...


Beck said...

And then there are those of us who have the only grandchildren on either side of the family, which means both sides spend December fighting for our love.
Our peanut was six monthsish last Christmas, and she spent the whole day in a very big-eyed overwhelmed state. It was quite cute. But you're so right - this is the year that she's very enchanted with everything!

Mimi said...

Our Miss Baby is but another in a long line of grandkids, on both sides. So maybe we're making a blessing out of grand-parental neglect. It's all so been-there-done that with our parents. If your parents are looking for people to lavish their attention on, Beck, we're pretty free ... :-)

Sigh. This post came out much more preachy and earnest than I was hoping. I blame Blogger pooping out while I was writing last night ...