They say opposites attract and my husband and I are no exception. Yet of all the qualities that polarize us, the most troublesome is this: he loves the holidays; I can’t stand them.
And it’s not because I’m Jewish either, though of course being Jewish makes Christmastime a bit awkward. (Don’t believe it when they tell you Hannukah is a suitable substitute; it’s not.) My family just never really made much of holidays. Thanksgiving came, bearing a chicken, perhaps, then went just as humbly. New Year’s Eve was quiet”¦ until I reached my teens and escaped the fold. There were no fireworks in the summer. Even the Jewish holidays were anti-climactic, when my cousins weren’t sneaking swigs out of the liquor cabinet.
Sound sad? Well it wasn’t, really. Instead I just always wondered what all the fuss was about. I became a creature of habit and all that holiday mayhem wreaked havoc on my schedule. And for what? So happy families could share more happy times with their families while the rest of the world divorced or wilted on their deathbeds or starved? (I’ve always suffered from white middle-class guilt.)
When I met my husband, white and middle-class and from one of those Cleaver-like happy families, I knew I’d have to start keeping my Scrooge side in check. But I didn’t realize until a full calendar year had gone by just how hard I’d have to work at it. At Easter it was packages from my mother-in-law filled with chocolate eggs, pink candy and little bunny dolls. On Valentine’s Day my sweetheart flagrantly violated my most sacred holiday rule: never to acknowledge its existence. Halloween became a nightmare, and not in a good way.
Christmas was even worse, because we had to get on a plane and travel to experience my in-laws’ holiday glee in person. I may have gotten used to the jetlag, the lost luggage, the minced pies and the shopping for a dozen people who already had everything, but that doesn’t mean I grew to like it. The only thing worse than buying all those useless presents was pretending to enjoy receiving useless presents in return.
After we had our first child, even my husband realized he’d had enough of holiday travel. When he factored the extra expense of flying during the Christmas season together with the extra hassles of schlepping a baby, not to mention the sleepless nights abroad, it just didn’t seem to make sense. (Of course I’d already worked this out, but you have to let people come to their own conclusions.) We made a deal: every second year we’d skip the journey and celebrate at home.
Well, didn’t that turn into a win-win situation particularly considering what happened next. On our daughter’s second Christmas we had a three-week-old baby and precious little mobility, so we stayed home and played it cool: nobody expected any presents from us with two under two to deal with, and damned if we had any time to shop for each other. Then, the following year, my husband was transferred to China. Not my first choice for setting up home, but what clinched it for me was the absence of Christmas in this godless country, where the 25th was just another working day. In China we ended up spending Christmas the same way millions of Jews do in the West: eating Chinese food.
Last summer we returned to Britain and resumed our usual patterns. According to our deal, 2011 would have been my husband’s turn to drag us back to mama for a giant glazed ham and the misery of two exhausted, out-of-whack children. But the weather outlook looked particularly bleak, and Holiday Guy had gotten used to the tropical climes in Asia. In November he began dreaming of a beach.
There aren’t many beachy options within easy reach of the UK in December. If you want guaranteed sunshine, you’ve got to head southeast and what do you get southeast of the UK?
Not Christians, anyway.
Sure, Christmas starts earlier and earlier every year, and already I’ve been offered more mince pies than every caroler in the neighborhood could safely digest. But I’m willing to put up with them and the fake snow and the piped-in music and the TV commercials for now. Because by the time you read this I’ll be reading a book by a pool among the minarets. And I’ll be savoring it. Because the girls are growing up fast and Santa’s on their radar, so this merry Christmas-less may just be my last.