When you're a kid, Christmas is clearly for kids. Everything seems designed to keep us entertained, adored and happy. When you're an adult, Christmas is clearly for your parents.
My 26 year old brother Alex and I have yet to show any interest in adding to our family, so my folks are stuck with just us, regardless of their obvious desire to play with babies.
We spent Christmas Eve at the home of our "cousins," The Rykens. The Rykens are our closest family friends and thus, it's easier to explain our relationship as one of blood than of friendship. At this point, it's non-optional. Anyway, they had about 20 people over last night and I found myself standing by the ham with Emily's new fiance, Ben. Ben looks like Miles from Murphy Brown and politely asked me what I did for a living.
And thinking to myself, "Ugh, here we go making boring conversation at a cocktail party" I, in turn, asked Ben what he does.
Ben is a doctor at Stanford and reattaches limbs. Hands, fingers, feet...anything that's gets chopped off your body, Ben can put it back on. Needless to say, the second Ben explained to me what "plastic reconstructive surgery" meant, I was like, "Oh. Okay, this is going to be a long conversation because I can already think of 73 questions and I'm getting really excited."
10 minutes later, Arthur walked by. I grabbed him. "Arthur, meet Ben."
Arthur politely said hello.
"Ben reconnects people's hands when they get chopped off."
Without missing a beat, Arther announces, "Say no more. I'm in. I have officially joined this conversation."
New fiance Ben, God bless him, could not have been a better sport and clearly knew his audience. He had fantastic stories, gory tails of table saws and why you should never stick your arm out of a moving car.
Upon leaving, I hopped into the car with my family to head to Mass and said, "The next time you're at a party with Emily's fiance, ask him what he does."
In the hopes of getting Alex and me to actually enjoy Mass on Christmas Eve, my parents had decided we'd go to 10pm Mass at St. Agnes in the Haight. Everyone is welcome at St. Agnes, and it was pointed out repeatedly to us that gay people and homeless people were encouraged. I thought that was the case in every church, but Anges also had other selling points, like a trumpet section of the band.
Just between you and me, I actually like going to church on Christmas Eve. It reminds me of when I was little and there's something about the pomp and circumstance that's very comforting.
I roll with a lot of progressive types who're convinced every priest is a raging pedophile who rips money from the hands of the poor. Standing in that gorgeous church on Christmas Eve, arms entwined and singing with my family, swathed in incense and trumpets and listening to a story about a kid with AIDS in Africa, I felt bad for the rap the clergy is getting. Even in asking for money, the little envelope reassured us none of the money would be used towards the cost of a sex abuse case. It actually used those words: sex abuse.
Far more disappointingly, where were the homos and hobos I'd been promised? Sure there were a couple of gay couples here and there. But I was expecting drag queens and Liberace, maybe one of the readings by Bruce Vilanch. And everyone I saw in that church certainly "had means." There were no shopping carts and fingerless gloves. The whole place was packed (actually, half full) with your typical liberal Catholic: educated, artsy and guilty. And highly disappointing.
As the above description dictated, we drove back to my parents house in Mill Valley listening to a This American Life CD.
Oh, which reminds me: If the gentleman in the black Audi on Masonic last night is reading this, Merry Christmas!
I was shoved in the back of my father's car at a red light and this man pulled up next to us. I looked over and he looked over. And we both smiled and waved. It was a little Christmas moment.
I didn't even mention this Christmas moment to my fellow passengers and my mother would've killed pedestrians to follow him, chased that Audi down and invited him to join us at Mass. "And here, you sit next to Beth. You know, Beth is very funny and a recovering alcoholic. She also cooks a lovely roast chicken. Tell him, Beth. Tell him about your blog!"
Back at the house, once again all under the same roof, Alex and I wrapped presents in the TV room and watched The Shawshank Redemption while my father made us hot chocolate and biscotti. It was adorable and as I crawled into bed wearing my Santa pajamas, I decided to insure a good night's sleep with a little shot of NyQuil. I drifted off as cozy and content as I've ever been.
The next thing I knew, I heard screaming and banging and rattling. When I finally got my bearings, I realized my family'd been waiting for ages. I was out, dead to the world. And by 10am, they'd finally come to the bedroom door and starting to slam their fists on it, screaming at me to the get the hell up.
Santa had arrived, and much ado was made about the chimney, the clue of the half-eaten cookie, the cleaned out fireplace. The four of us sat around sipping coffee and delighting at our gifts. Alex and I got "City of Mill Valley" red backpacks filled with emergency supplies! My father was beside himself at receiving exactly what he'd requested from Santa: a Dirigible ride.
We have now been instructed we can do whatever we want until 5pm, when we're due back at the Ryken's for Christmas Dinner. Tonight's dinner involves and eclectic and rather worrisome cast of characters. I'll be bringing my video camera as my mother is predicting a fight.
After breakfast, I headed upstairs with as much coffee as I could carry and crawled into the pull-out couch to watch A Christmas Story. And even at 26, my little brother was so exhausted from his presents and stuffed from our feast, he silently crawled up beside me and fell asleep.
Kinda like a dog.
My mother is downstairs making tonight's dessert and laughing hysterically at her viewing of Big and my father is quite literally, playing with his toys. So clearly, at least in my childhood home, Christmas is still for kids. Even kids who are 26 and 31. Christ, even for kids who are 64...