We all have fond holiday memories, at least that’s what marketing departments around the world tell us, so it must be true.
Here are a few of mine; whether they are fond memories is up to you. At this point in my life, I just laugh, shake my head, and mutter some 21st century swear words I find more fitting than Ebenezer’s “Bah Humbug!”
Where’s the kid?
When I was in 3rd grade, I played one of the Wise Men in the Christmas Eve pageant at our church. After the previous years roles as a shepherd (everyone was a fucking shepherd; 1st grade, two-bit hack role), and as Innkeeper #2 (there was no room in my inn, and still isn’t!), I was stoked to have a legit speaking part and to be wearing a cool gold crown and a sweet ass green velour robe.
I knew my one line inside and out; however, the director (Sister Patricia, a continuously pissed-off nun with a bad perm and orthopedic shoes) and my parents were adamant that I needed to speak it loudly and clearly to reach the recesses of the church. So, when the Christmas Eve performance came, I strode confidently down the aisle with the two other Not as Wise Men in search of baby Jesus (actually a ratty baby doll wrapped in a blanket), saw the shimmering tin-foil covered cardboard star dangling above the pint-sized Joseph and Mary and proudly pointed and yelled out “WE MUST BE NEAR THE SAVIOR!!!” at a volume usually reserved for soon to be murder victims. The packed church congregation laughed loudly at my enthusiasm which left 8 year old me a tad confused and embarrassed but, in turn, provided a story to be retold nearly every holiday for the next 42 and counting.
My catalog of life embarrassments is vast, but this is one I sort of like; I mean, I fucking nailed that line, made hundreds of people laugh, and I got to wear a gold crown and a sweet cloak made of green velour without judgment. Just try wearing that shit out in public as an adult; it doesn’t fly. Nailing that line would also give me the confidence I needed four years later when I played Pontius Pilate in the Easter pageant. “I wash my hands of this!” is something that I still say from time to time when I feel like eschewing all responsibility from a matter, which is always. Although I choose not to wear the leafy crown and toga and no one gets crucified to my knowledge.
“It is the most shattering experience of a young man’s life when he awakes and quite
reasonable says to himself: I will never play The Dane. When that moment comes, ones
— Uncle Monty, Withnail and I
Is that you, Santa Claus?
It was yet another Christmas Eve mass or a Saturday night mass close to the holidays1. My dad had just pulled into a parking space, and my brother, sister, and mom were piling out of the car. Someone excitedly yelled, “JASON, LOOK, THERE’S SANTA CLAUS!!” I was hurrying out of the back seat, eager to see the jolly old man himself walking down the street when KA-BLAMMMMM!!! One of my siblings slammed the car door shut, knocking me in the head and back onto the seat of the car in a heap of tears.
I never did see Santa that night, nor did I ever care to again. Fuck Santa.
In 5th grade, we got a new kid in our school named Mike. Mike was sort of odd in a super-smart, funny, artistic sort of way. We immediately hit it off and became fast friends, often visiting each other’s houses and doing things like drawing futuristic robot war scenes at the kitchen table, blowing up shit with firecrackers, or playing primitive computer role-playing games on his dad’s Apple IIe computer until the wee hours of the morning. It was unsupervised 80s-era kid fun.
I think it was that first Christmas knowing Mike that we exchanged gifts on the last day of school before the holiday break. I bought him a stunning giant glass jar of peanut M&M candies, mostly because I lusted for the item myself, and he bought me a set of giant foam bats to hit each other in the heads and act like goofs with.
That afternoon, as Mike bundled up in his moon boots and puffy 80’s snow gear for the bus ride home, he inadvertently dropped the giant jar of M&Ms and shards of glass and brightly colored, chocolatey, peanutty goodness crashed and rolled along the heavily waxed floor of the classroom.
There was much chaos, and I don’t think our teacher wished either of us a Merry Christmas that year.
I felt bad about Mike’s gift, but I was still stoked with my foam bats! I couldn’t wait to get them home and start whacking people with them.
I was still riding the high of the foam bats when Christmas Eve arrived. We did all the normal stuff: dinner at Grandma’s house, church AGAIN, and then home to snack on ham sandwiches and open our gifts from mom and dad.
During the gift opening, there was an incident with our dog. I don’t know whether it snapped at someone, or shit on the carpet, or what; all I know is that my dad flipped the fuck out, grabbed one of my foam bats, and started beating him with it while cursing on top of his lungs. I was in tears already when the foam bat snapped in half as my father beat down on the cowering canine. I cracked and started screaming, “Stop!; It! You broke my gift; I hate you!!!” And like a needle screeching to a halt on a spinning turntable, shit came to dead silence.
“You what? You hate me? All I do for you, and you hate me?” Blah, blah, blah, guilt, shame, gaslighting, etc., you get it. “Get upstairs to your room!”
And with that, I was in my room, alone, in tears, on Christmas Eve.
After I got my 10-year-old shit together, I wrote my dad an apology note stating that, despite what I yelled earlier for the entire family to hear, I loved him very much and that I didn’t care about that stupid old foam bat. Basically, it was all my fault; my bad.
By some means I don’t recall, my dad got the note and forgave me for my insolence. Christmas could go on its merry fucking way.
That note will come up around the holidays every once in a great while, but we never talk about the events that led to the note being written in the first place. I just nod my head while feigning embarrassment and regret for my childhood indiscretions, so everyone at the table knows how heartily sorry I am. [Rolls eyes]
For what it’s worth, Mike and I never exchanged gifts again. Although we did remain good friends up into high school. Not “middle school” close, but friends. I still think about him, and hope he and his family are well.
I hope you enjoyed these looks into my “Ghosts of Christmas Past,” and they didn’t bring you down too much, it’s all good fun, sort of. I have an encyclopedia-length collection of this stuff but did my best to weed out the truly depressing stories that involve things like Christmas Morning ER visits, illnesses, post-Christmas deaths, and accidentally taped over Billy Joel cassette tapes. OK, maybe next year I’ll bust out the Billy Joel story.
Have a safe and tolerable holiday and get ready for the 2022 shit show. I’ll be sure to let you know if I get my head smashed in a car door again.
- I realized when writing this post that I have a LOT of bad memories and trauma associated with the church and from my years in the grade school, junior high, and subsequent high school associated with it. The church and its ill-run schools are responsible for a shit-ton of issues that I am still working through as a 50-year-old man. Thankfully there wasn’t any sort of sexual abuse or shit like that, but the verbal abuse, shame, bullying, and guilt by students and faculty alike, that they portrayed as “a loving environment” and the complete lack of a support system in the form of employing even one (ONE!!!!) fucking counselor was unacceptable. Oh, the 80s…
To this day, I wonder how my life might have turned out if I had been able to talk with someone, anyone, about what was going on in my life as an adolescent (my parents were most often balls deep in things like Reagan-era unemployment, paying the bills with money we didn’t have, and my mom’s debilitating Multiple Sclerosis). I guess I was supposed to pray the bullying away or talk to the priest that years later would be arrested for wrestling (amongst other things) in his underwear with a teen boy who was, for some reason, staying overnight with him. (insert for fuck sakes emoji here). Oh well, fuck them, my life turned out pretty darn not bad regardless.