Me: Well we survived Thanksgiving. What do you want to do for Christmas?
Mother: As little as possible.
Me: Here, here.
For the last several years my family — comprised of my mother and yours truly — has decided to bag the holidays.
While the rest of the Judeo-Christian world was trimming trees, baking cookies, humming the dreidel song or polishing their menorahs, my mother and I were reveling in tropical climes with nothing in our stockings but newly tanned legs and freshly waxed bikini lines.
We’d had it with the entire charade. The sanctioned spectacle of gratuitous gift-giving, same-old sermons, obligatory form letters and cards, forced cheer in the face of droll parties, avalanches of catalogs — even the sticky stench of price-hiked evergreens — had taken its toll.
And since it was just the two of us — no children to dazzle with visions of sugarplums — we went as low as we could go. We went to Key West.
It’s the bottom of the barrel to some, the bottom of the bottle to others, but decidedly the bottom of America (being its southernmost dangling appendage). Key West was as unlikely a Jerusalem as we could figure.
So we locked our unwreathed doors, packed our bags and headed to the Sodom of the South, expecting nothing more on Christmas morn than fine weather, freshly pressed OJ in our mimosas and maybe a conch omelet. We had been unleashed.
We had finally broken the bone-scraping shackles of tradition that had kept us knee-deep in coils of tree lights and turkey dressing for almost 30 years. We had cast aside the chains that compelled us to decorate every corner of our antebellum ancestral home, feed small armies (that seemed to multiply annually) on Christmas Eve, power shop until we plopped and out-wrap each other on Christmas Day.
We had risen from the cobwebby world of dead tradition and were now a modern family comprised of two adult women who had shed the illusions of controlling and manipulating the “perfect Christmas.”
The first year away from holly and folly was fine. We bunked with my fairy godfather and his partner of 30 years in their hideaway manse with a luxurious lap pool and gorgeous gardener.
Me: Who’s the stud with the shears?
Fairy Godfather: Stay away from him Nicole. He gets paid by the hour.
Despite distractions and a brief run in with a drag-queen Santa in ankle-length red sequins and five harnessed, antlered poodles in tow, we managed to find respite from the holiday madness. We came home well-fed and well-rested, with red noses that would put Rudolph to shame. We also came back with the unwavering conviction that we had done the right thing.
So it came to pass that we would seek warmer pastures the following year. We set our sights on an island getaway and booked our flight. What began as a “Let’s blow off Christmas” litany evolved into legal pad family meetings to sort out the “particulars” and review our “demands.” In other words, we were both beginning to micromanage our vacation with the same near hysteria that had turned Christmas into a production number of Andrew Lloyd Weber proportions.
At the last minute, we managed to compromise, but by that time there was no room at the inn (the inn of choice, that is.) So we found ourselves trapped for a solid week in a Bahamian air-conditioned nightmare resort surrounded by nouveau-riche bubbas, their tanning-embedded wives and a nasty cold front that forced us to seek shelter in a large, velvet-lined ashtray known as the Grand Casino.
We returned home as pasty as Frosty the Snowman, as bloated as Santa from all of the frozen drinks and as grumpy as Scrooge himself for allowing ourselves to fall prey to something just as shameless as the concept of the perfect Christmas. The unrelenting diatribe against commercialism, hypocrisy and the ubiquitous Christmas sweater had been reworded to lambaste island development, exploitation of culture, the Disneyfication of our planet and gold lamé resort wear.
This year we’re staying home for Christmas, but this time mother and I plan to do more reflecting than decorating or entertaining.
I want to remember the exact angle of the librarian’s eyebrow who watched me check out a half-dozen handwriting-analysis books and stared as I painstakingly compared my parents’ report-card signatures to gift-card signatures from Santa. I want to rekindle the last Christmas before my father died; the way he smelled in his new leather bomber jacket; the way he winked at me in collusion when mother opened her gift from him that I had chosen; his slow, deliberate walk to the woodpile.
I want to go home for Christmas. How hard could that be?