Today's Three Takeaways
Things will not always be as perfect as they are, but that doesn’t necessarily mean things will be worse.
There is nothing wrong with a calm Christmas Day.
I miss playing poker and drinking beers on Christmas.
Novel Word Count
Joel’s Journal - Entry #55 - 25/12/2016
As a kid, you’re always focused on the presents, let’s be real.
No 10-year-old is sitting back as he opens gifts thinking about how lucky he is to have the family he does, or live in the home he does, or the fact that he has any presents at all is a blessing.
Hell no, that kid is tearing through wrapping paper in a matter of seconds, giving a reaction and moving on to the next one.
When you’re young, Christmas is all about the stuff. NEW stuff.
For me, it would start with the all clear. My three brothers and I would be piled at the top of the stairs like runners in a dysfunctional race, waiting for my dad or mom to call that we could come down. We’d stampede into the living room and immediately shout and marvel at the stockings left by the fireplace, jam packed with stuff and looking like colourful, giant sausages.
When we’d rip through those we’d head into the other room where the Christmas tree guarded the real bounty.
Then we would head out for the day.
As I wrote about yesterday with traditions, it was a tradition for my parents to torture us by giving us all this new stuff, then forcing us to leave it all behind for the day. As a kid, it was made okay by the fact that we were getting more new stuff at grandmas place.
It was here that I first began to realize that Christmas really is about more than just the stuff.
The house would generally be filled with people already, every room packed with people on couches and chairs, sipping coffee, munching on toast and other assorted breakfast goodies. My grandma’s large house was no match for the cousins, aunts and uncles who made the place look the size of a shed. I remember my Grandpa greeting us at the door, I couldn’t tell you if he did it every time, but I have some sharp memories of it happening often. He’d sit in the the crux of the stairs as they curved into the upper reaches of the house and give each of me and my brothers a hug. My grandfather was a big man, and giving him a hug, I could barely put my arms around his stomach. Yet his hands would grasp my back and then ruffle my hair, complimented with a big Merry Christmas and a wide smile beneath his bright watery eyes.
Again, it would start with heading downstairs, this time, into my grandmas basement, carpeted in red shag and walled with wood panels and thick stucco. The tree stood in the corner, practically buried by the long stockings and gifts. The stockings looked better fit for holding a set of skis than a multitude of tiny items.
The cousins would pick a corner or a chair or a spot on the floor and after getting the okay from grandma, we’d dig in.
When that was done and the other presents had been given out, the adults would sit around and chat. Just talk, and eat, and drink. No presents.
I always remember feeling a slight emptiness in my tiny stomach after all these gifts had been opened. Like, what’s next? That feeling was somewhat cured by watching my dad, who after opening his few gifts would sip some port, and talk and laugh with my uncles.
After some time the older guys would head into the back room and close the door. This was forbidden territory for the young kids, and the thick brown door with the thin strip of light running beneath it held an aura of mystery, along with a haze of cigarette smoke that filtered through the crack.
Later, when I came of age, I realized it was back there that another tradition existed of drinking beer and playing poker. My multitude of uncles and older cousins set up a small table between my grandmas pair of chest freezers on one wall and the fridge on the other and just played cards all day.
When the afternoon had faded away, we were back in the car and heading over to my other grandmas place down the road for dinner, and of course, more stuff.
This was the last round of gift opening, and as a kid, you could start to feel that the end was nigh. I remember always opening these gifts slowly, savouring that small bit of surprise to try and last me to next Christmas.
Things have changed.
My grandpa passed away some years ago and my grandma downsized and sold the house when she no longer needed the big home for just herself.
That changed our Christmas mornings as we were now slightly displaced. This resulted in the annual Christmas dinner a few weeks before the big day (which I wrote about earlier this month).
Going to my other grandparents for dinner held strong for a little while longer as well, until they eventually downsized and sold the house as well.
Now, Christmas is quite a calm affair at the Wittnebel house, and my god is it amazing.
Yesterday we were up around 8 a.m. and after rousing the late bloomers from their beds, and the arrival of my brother and his partner, we tucked into our stockings before moving on to the tree.
While opening gifts, I took my time and was sure to watch the reactions of the others when they opened the gifts I’d picked out for them. With the help of M, I think I made some solid choice, and their reactions definitely back up that theory.
With nothing left to do in the day but eat an amazing brunch together and crash on the couch, the family took to it famously. My brother Daniel and his partner headed out for other commitments while Kyle went to meet his girlfriend in Oakville for another round.
My parents and my younger brother and I spent the majority of the day watching movies, reading and just simply enjoying the feeling of a Christmas day with no commitments.
Today will be a little different as we’re hosting a Christmas dinner and the grandparents are coming over.
I can almost see a bit of cyclical nature in all of this, as we used to go their place for Christmas dinner and now they come here. I wonder how things will change further in the years to come.
I remember thinking as a child that I never wanted Christmas Day to change. It was nothing short of perfect as I got to see everyone in my family, and open all my gifts in one day.
Now I know that the reason it has this impact on me, and why it’s so powerful, is because it’s now gone.
Some day, these cozy Christmas days will also be gone, replaced by something else, and while it’s a bit scary to think about, it’s also a bit exciting.
Thanks for reading,