There was a fundamental shift in my family this year. Now as I refer to family, I am talking about my brother, sister, mother, and significant others. They want to go to church tonight.
This is new. We have done comedy clubs, movies, and other things on X-Mas eve but church is something we haven't done for many years. My father is singing in his choir.
Last night, my sister and brother trimmed the tree. That is their annual job. My brother hung the tuna fish can on the tree. I watched and teased them about how shitty the tree looked. This always kicks off the usual "get your ass over here and help" rhetoric which I counter with I am the eldest and it is still my job to keep you guys in line. At 50, and after a few decades, you'd think they'd learn by now.
My family became a little fractured after my parents' divorce. It took us a long time to recover. But we are recovering. Each year it gets better and this year I saw real spiritual progress and growth. So I don't find it particularly remarkable that our family wants to go to church tonight. In fact, it makes sense to me.
After church, unless we choose midnight mass, we will choke down my mother's oyster stew. We will pretend to love it. There will be wry and surreptitious glances cast about after my mother asks "how do you like it?" and we will all tell her it is fantastic. My sister refuses to eat the oyster stew and she is missing out on the real tradition. You see it is not the oyster stew that is the tradition. It is forcing yourself to eat it, conjuring up the most convincing and heart warming look, and selling the little fib to mom. Year after year, my brother wins this category. He is a true professional. I marvel at him as he casts that wry smile at me once mom looks away. There are acceptable lies in life and this is one of them.
Sometimes, there is dessert. I will not eat fruitcake. Fruitcake is some other family's horrible oyster stew invention. I am convinced that who ever invented fruitcake was a sadist. Having navigated the oyster stew thing, some ancient and anonymous family raised that bar and presented fruitcake as a higher test of courage and will. I am more than willing to accept defeat here. I simply cannot pretend to like that stuff as tears stream down my face. Given the choice of fruitcake or death in some horrible wilderness disaster where my survival depended on eating fruitcake- I would simply ask that my ashes be scattered at McKenzie Butte. That too, is family tradition.
Then it's on to the present unwrapping event. I will pretend to be shocked and thankful for the sweaters and books I receive each year. I think my sister generally wins this event. One year, I am going to wrap up a Bob Dylan eight track tape, just to see the look on her face. She will marvel about how she has longed for such a thing for many years. She too- is a professional.
I finally grasped the true meaning of Christmas a couple of years back. I am a slow study. It is about being grateful for the things you already have, not the wanting and despair of not having whatever it is that you think you might be missing. I am thankful that my family is all alive and in reasonably good health. I am thankful for knowing there is a power greater than myself and celebrating his birth and life at church. I am thankful for oyster stew and presents I don't need. I am thankful that I get to watch the academy award performances of my family as they clear these holiday hurdles. I am thankful that I can love this crew unconditionally and laugh about their antics. I am grateful that I can be present and take it all in. I am looking forward to it.