When I was young, young, young, Christmas meant presents, and Christmas songs. My mother and my brothers wife prepared large dinners during the holidays, and for days there was joy and laughter in the house. We celebrated Christmas on the down low, as our Christian religion did not acknowledge Christmas,are participation began and ended with the gift.
As I grew older, I wanted the Christmas experience I saw on television and in the movies. No matter how bad things were, by Christmas day, it all worked out.
Holiday gatherings ended at our house due to my mother’s depression, which often prevented her from leaving her bed. Gatherings at my brother home was tense, so I preferred to stay home with my mother. Years went by, the holidays were just another day. While I missed the gatherings, I wasn’t sad, I was content with frozen pizza, Hawaiian Punch and TV.
At fourteen, I knew I wanted a different life, but my mother was depended on me, so did a few others in the family. By the time I was 16, I didn’t think a different life was possible. Despite having a sizeable family, no one came by, unless they needed an emergency babysitter, otherwise it was me and my mom, Some members of the family convinced me, my role was to be my mothers caretaker.
One family member told me to live my life. She said, if I died my mother would continue to live on. After she left, I started making plans to move on my own. My grades in high school were terrible and someone suggested community college. I could have attended a local community college but I wanted out. Six months later I was in a new apartment in the Central Valley. My mother, thrived living on her own, she still had bad days, but they weren’t as severe.
I think the stress of college and living on my own, wiped out parts of memory. I’m living in the Central Valley and in my mind, I’ve created a new family. The Walton’s, which was a high rated television show at the time. What makes this worse, is I don’t think, I’ve seen more than two full episodes of the show in my entire life! What I remember, it was a large loving poor family.
I think it has to do with wanting to be apart of a large family. My dad died when I was six, and my brother was sixteen years older. The only sense of family, I had was my cousins who lived 45 minutes away. They didn’t celebrate Christmas or exchange gifts.
Years flashed by and now I’m college in the Central Valley. I wanted my first Christmas as an adult, to be special. I took a second job at a small store, to buy Christmas gifts for the family.
I arrived late Christmas Eve, with a large Christmas hat, my mother has happy to see me. Christmas Day,at my brothers house was contentious, I could feel something in the wind. But its Christmas and I’m one of the Walton and everything will be just fine. My brother started attacking me about something or nothing, it appears that I’m stealing from our mother. His wife made fun of her gift and from there my Walton Family fantasy was over. I went home and grabbed my bags and caught the 5:30 Los Angeles Greyhound bus to the Central Valley, from that moment forward, I never participated in a family function, that involved my immediate family.
Its been many decades since that Christmas, my first Christmas where I was an adult and could make my own decisions, and I chose not be in sad and toxic environment. I cried the moment I found my seat and until I feel asleep. I cried in my small apartment with the green shag carpeting. With nearly a week before classes, I refused to sit and do nothing and went downtown to an old fashion single screen theater where a disaster movie called “Earthquake” was playing. In the theater, several rows of seats were removed to accommodate these giant speakers that make you feel like your in the movie, experiencing the Earthquake. I had a blast! What Christmas? I saw it twice, moving closer to the speakers.
It was so important to me to move away and to be on my own, independent, But I don’t think I was ever prepared. I didn’t realize how much I missed my dysfunctional family, my angry violent jealous brother and that I needed to be around my mother, despite her debilitating depression. The crazy was familiar.
Spending that first year away, allowed me to see who they were. I wanted my brothers love, to be a family and it took me several more years to realize, it was never going to happen. I was closer in age to his children and wanted to protect them, but it was not my place and if I would have stayed, I might have become them.
Before I was married, most of my Christmases was spent at the movie theater. I would sneak in a couple of homemade sandwiches, wheat thins and a couple cans of soda and it was “Oh happy Day”
One of my favorite theaters was the worn but comfy Embassy Theater on Market Street in San Francisco, it was a favorite place for seniors. It was always a triple feature with movies so old, they were on TV. For the price of admission they would give everyone six tickets and between movies they would bring out this old wheel, if your number came up you won a cash prize, never more that eight dollars but its was very dramatic as they would count out your prize, one, two, three….on mic.. Despite the old tired movies in the worn out old theater, the place was packed on Christmas. Families with small children and seniors.
I believe the importance of Christmas is often linked traditions and the family.
Christmas didn’t become important to me, until I moved to New York where there were several families who looked after me and treated me like family. Christmas starts in early fall for one family, traditions that began when they first arrived to New York from Italy. Nearly everything was handmade, from dolls to Ornaments, Wood cut from trees past were made into ornaments and passed down to members of the family symbolizing the importance of family. Every year ornaments are passed to every branch of the family. Every holiday, for more than 40 years I receive a Mason Jar filled with mind bending gravy (or sauce for you non Italians) and homemade sausages.
Christmas isn’t huge with my children, (one wonders why) I imagine this will change as they have children. If we weren’t having people over, we went to movies. I don’t remember anyone being disappointed if we didn’t make Ham or Turkey, Christmas dinner has been Burger King or Pizza.
Today, they are all married, starting traditions of their own. This is year its with that family, or that , mom or dad, this grandparent , that grandparent, and me. This Christmas its me, Keanu Reeves “The Matrix Resurrection” “Sing 2” and Licorice Pizza.
My Christmas Tradition is finding the biggest screen at the lowest cost.