Both Sides Now

“The Season” makes me crabby.  Grumpy.  Irritable.  I’ve come to hate it.  Everything about it.  I hate the music, the crowded stores, the decorations.  I especially hate the decorations.

Last year a friend stopped by our house in the middle of December.  “God, it’s December 15th,” I said to her, “and the only decoration I have up is the wreath on the door!”

“I don’t think that counts, Lease,” responded my husband John. “You didn’t take that down from last year.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Tonight, I’m looking around at my undecorated house thinking, “uggggh,” not “Ho ho ho!”

It wasn’t always true, though.  I used to be one of them.  I was a veritable Christmas Elf.  I baked, I decorated.  I embroidered Christmas stockings for the whole family.  My son Jacob and I built gingerbread houses that did not come from a mix or a box and were actually made of gingerbread stuck together in the shape of a house!  My friends got a bottle of homemade Irish Cream liqueur.  Some used it to get their kids to bed on Christmas Eve.

But mostly, I sang.  The records, tapes and CDs came out on Thanksgiving.  From the moment I woke up the day after Thanksgiving, until New Years, I would trill away.  “White Christmas,” “Do You Hear What I Hear?” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”  I belted “Mele Kalikimaka” when I had an established escape route to avoid people trying to punch me.  I know the words to all 18,423 verses of Frosty the Snowman.  I would start singing in the shower and keep going until John tackled me and put duct tape across my mouth, usually at about 8:30 a.m.  Regardless, I’d start up again the next morning.

If the current, Crabby Christmas Me got a hold of the old Merry Christmas Me, I would slap myself silly.

So you see, I do understand the Christmas-sy part of Christmas.  The love, the joy, the traditions.

But now I see the other side.  And it’s that “tradition” part that is to blame.

You see, my family’s always been fairly competitive.  My mother and her sister Ruth were particularly so.  They’d argue at each shared Sunday dinner over a million things:  whose gravy was better (my mother’s), who cracked the best one-liner (always Aunt Ruth – she was a hoot), and most traumatically for me, whose young daughter was taller. (Duh, Maureen was almost a year older than me – of course she won every time.  But you’re not taller now, are you?  And you’re still older, Maur.  You’re still older.  How do you like it??)  Darn, I wish I’d missed the competitive gene.

When I was a kid, Aunt Ruth was high on the list of my favorite relatives.  Now she’s tops on an altogether different list.  And it ain’t Santa’s list, neither.

Because Aunt Ruth started a family tradition.  A competition.  But it’s not a family tradition I recommend, especially during the Christmas season.  In fact, it should have a warning, although I’m not sure where you’d put it:  Don’t try this at home.

You see, Aunt Ruth started the tradition of kicking the bucket on a major holiday.  What fun!  Great idea!  Not many families do that!  Hey, we are DIFFERENT!

Knowing Aunt Ruth, I’m sure her last thought was “Doris, you’ll never top this one!  I’m dying on Thanksgiving!!!!”   She was no doubt a bit miffed when my mother joined her a couple of years later.  Because, not to be outdone, Mom arrived in the afterlife on Easter Sunday.

Their party really got going when we reached Y2K, and my sister Judy died unexpectedly on my birthday in January.  Now, you might argue that my birthday is not, technically speaking, a holiday.  Not a paid day off for most folks.  But hey, in my book, this qualifies.  So there.

As time went on, there were fewer and fewer holidays I could celebrate.  The only big one left was Christmas.

Guess what happened on Christmas, 2000!  Yup, Dad reclaimed his spot at the head of the table with Mom, Judy and Aunt Ruth. Dad trumped them all.  Or because it was Christmas, perhaps he trumpeted them all.  Maybe both.

I must say I am rather ticked off about it all.  Sort of changes the tone of the Holidays, you see.  I plan to have words with all four of them, next time I see them.  And I will not be nice.

In the meantime, celebrating holidays, well, it just seems so odd to me.  Especially Christmas, because Christmas is so stuff-oriented, and most of my Christmas stuff is from them.  It takes a bit of the fun out of decorating.

For a while, I considered joining the Eastern Orthodox Church.  That way I could celebrate the same holidays, just on different days.  I could keep all my Christmas crap!  I could decorate!  I could bake!  I could sing!  But then I realized that the change would just give us all additional high priority target dates, and I don’t have enough family members left to meet the challenge.  So Eastern Orthodox is out.

At the same time, I also realized that, when Dad hit the Holiday Lottery, the whole tradition had to stop.  Because I’m pretty sure that biting the dust on, say, Columbus Day, just wouldn’t cut it.  So why bother?

Nevertheless, this whole thing has made me decidedly anti-Holiday.

There is one holiday I still look forward to, though.  Groundhog Day.  I just can’t figure out what sort of decorations to put up.

 *     *     *
When I first posted this piece two years ago, my blogging buddies didn’t know whether it was safe to laugh at it.  It is. 
This is a reprise — it’s one of the most healing pieces of writing I’ve ever done.  I re-posted it for the two new followers I have and the 1,242 robots who have started following me since I first put my blogging buddies in the awkward position of not knowing whether to laugh or cry.


Filed under Childhood Traumas, Christmas Stories, Dad, Family, History, Holidays, Huh?, Humor, Mental Health, Mom, Music

52 responses to “Both Sides Now

  1. I was about a third of the way through this before I recognized the post!


  2. Wow! Not sure what to write, that sort of competitiveness I’ve been lucky enough to avoid and for which I am extremely grateful because I cannot imagine what it be like to lose people you love on such occasions. You have seen and experienced some amazing things in your life, I’m sure that when you are ready you will do something that will balance the feelings of sadness and reconnect you with your inner Christmas fairy. Merry Christmas and warm wishes for a happy, healthy 2014 🙂


    • “Not sure what to write” more or less sums up what people have said about this piece! No problem. But I’m glad your family didn’t have this particular competition.

      Thanks for your comment and your nice wishes. I hope that you too had a Merry Christmas and that 2014 brings only good to you and your family.


  3. You are so amazing for writing this, Elyse. I’m a Christmas Grinch too, but I don’t think I can top your story. See, you win at something =P

    I DO wish you a very Merry Christmas though and happy holidays (don’t slap me lol). All the best. Your friend, Janice xoxoxo


    • Thanks, Janice. I didn’t realize I’d entered a competition on this story. I thought that by admitting that my Dad won, hands down, that that would end the competition, in fact.

      I hope that you have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a terrific 2014, Janice. Thanks for stopping by. I miss your blog!


  4. It definitely is a laugh to you cry and cry until you laugh story. Lost family members is what makes the holidays difficult for the most of us. But you get the trophy. Rest easy this year’s season is almost over and we can settle down and enjoy last last few weeks of cold weather.


    • I’m not sure that’s a trophy I want! This piece helped me come to terms with it all, and so it was incredibly healing. I will be posting another holiday piece tomorrow and then stop!
      I hope that you have a good holiday, and that the weather outside isn’t too frightful — but I don’t think it will be the last few weeks of winter. At least not until we celebrate Groundhog Day!


  5. I’m glad you reposted this story … I don’t think I was following you two years ago. But, then, I’m rather forgetful …

    But, it does make your comments on my post about a similar anti-holiday sentiment more meaningful. You really do know what I was talking about.

    Hopefully your family (the one’s departed) are sitting around a table, enjoying some carols and eggnog (the high-octane kind).

    And, just think … the dreaded season is nearly over….


  6. Oh, we’ve had some really dismal holidays and there is nothing like gallows humor to go with it. Have a Merry Christmas and there are just 43 days to Groundhog Day!


  7. That’s an incredible tale. It would make the best black comedy ever!


  8. A classic for sure. Since my grandfather died on Christmas night, I think it’s safe to assume I understand. My family didn’t even tell me until the next night because they knew I had to work the day after Christmas and they didn’t want me unduly upset.


    • Yes, I’m sure you do understand. It is awful. But I have read that there is always a higher number of deaths on the big holidays than on regular old days. There ought to be a law!


  9. As another one of your (real, not robotic) new followers, thank you for reposting this! We don’t get to our age without finding humor in the reality of life. You write it perfectly.


    • Thanks Cindi. And I agree. What would we do if we couldn’t laugh. That said, it took about 12 years for me to write this, so sometimes I’m not as quick to laugh as at others!

      (Speaking of laughing, I love your gravitar picture. Wish we could have a chuckle together!)


      • I’m spending the morning of New Years Day going through my blog comments, and realize I missed this one … oops. That makes me *not* a laughing Cindi —> 😦

        (The pic was taken at my husband’s son’s wedding. What a love-filled day it was!)

        Perhaps some day we can get together and have a laugh or two in person. Until then, our blog comments, reflections, and outlook on life in our mid-50’s will be a welcome substitute.

        Happy New Year 2014!


        • It is easy to miss things — especially in those bubbles!

          I love hearing where your picture comes from. The best picture of my mother comes from my wedding. I look at it and smile every morning. It is very much like she’s around to chuckle with (and I always get to choose what she says which is sometimes a bonus!).

          Happy 2014!


  10. As one of your new followers, thank you for posting this. Holidays are so much fun…sarc.


  11. To be honest, I remember the various links to the holidays, but could that have come from other posts? If not, I remember this one! Still a good post … and very timely. This Christmas will be a bit different for us, and yes, our spirit isn’t quite the same this year …. so I’m counting on the spirit of Santa to rally me.


  12. I remember this, too. I’m sorry about it all. I hope you’re able to celebrate the holidays now.


  13. I remember this from the last posting.
    Still a helluva piece.


  14. I’m glad you put that disclaimer in the end, because I wouldn’t have felt right clicking the ‘like’ button if you hadn’t. But I like your ability to spin humor from a truly horrible series of events. I hope that macabre tradition is broken forever for your family and that only wonderful things happen on all your future holidays. You very much deserve it. (Winning the huge Mega Millions jackpot would’ve been a nice start, I suppose, but that ship has sailed…)


    • Actually, the tradition in my family was broken by my other sister, Beth. Beth knew how upset I got if anyone had so much as a sniffle as a holiday approached. She died on a regular old Tuesday. I’m pretty sure that (1) she planned it that way; and (2) the curse is broken.

      But you are right; winning that jackpot would have been sweet. I will go ahead and do that next time …


  15. cooper

    for groundhog day, just throw handfuls of mud at the house, then stand outside and squeak loudly – groundhog mating calls, you can tell your neighbors…


    • That sounds perfect, Cooper. I can hopefully do it as loudly and as annoyingly as can my neighbor’s dog. The dog isn’t so bad, but people who allow their dog to stay out all the time barking are cruel.


  16. I’m big on St. Patrick’s Day. Nothing calls for a bigger celebration than March 17th. There is eating, drinking, dressing up, singing, partying, etc. I invite you to celebrate the happiest day of the year. St. Patrick’s Day.


  17. Snoring Dog Studio

    I love this. As an older person, who is watching family and friends depart and who feels the time passing, this resonates. It made me smile. There are so many things that can make us anti-holiday for sure. People just up and leaving at the worst times can do it. So can the Honda commercials featuring Michael Bolton screeching.


    • Wouldn’t you like to get your hands on whoever misguided person came up with the idea for that horrible ad? I am quite convinced it has led to suicides. Why do advertisers do that???

      Glad you liked it, SDS. It really helped me, and I revisited it this year when I started feeling grumpy.


  18. Still a great piece, Elyse. Sometimes a bit of morbid humor is a way to cope with a difficult time.


  19. bigsheepcommunications

    I guess the challenge for all of us is to learn to appreciate and celebrate every ordinary day we have. Have a peaceful holiday 😀


  20. I remember this and it made me think of my mother who suffered loss during her childhood more times than I care to mention in this comment. Unlike you, I’ve never written about it…perhaps commented. Once she met my dad, and they married (for real, Elyse) on Groundhog’s Day, Feb. 2, folks stopped dying in her life for a while at least. Decorations weren’t hard since it was their anniversary, not the groundhog’s shadow we were celebrating. Gack…shadow? That sounds ominous, too. You can borrow my parents’ anniversary for a little pick me up.


    • That is a great day to get married — perfect imagery! And no, no shadow celebrations, although maybe to replay “The Shadow Knows” from old time radio would be fun!

      It’s been easier since I wrote this piece two years ago. I even made it through decorating the Christmas tree (my least favorite part) dry-eyed!


  21. Getting older does get more complicated; thanks for this, a healing post that made me grin.


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