I love my in-laws but it is true that opposites attract :) My family celebrated Christmas in a fairly traditional way - go to church on Christmas Eve, wake up early on Christmas morning to rip and tear into the presents and then prepare for a big meal after which... you nap!!
Not my in-laws. At least, not back then. (I think I've had a dampening effect on them over the years..) At any rate, the second Christmas of my married life, my in-laws decided to adopt a theme for the family get-together. As luck would have it, they settled on The Grinch Who Stole Christmas with the idea being that each person would dress up like one of the characters in the story. The only problem was that there weren't enough memorable characters for everyone in the family to have a part. That meant that Phil and I, as the founders of the feast, were let off the hook and could dress normally - sort of. (I think we had to dress up like Dr. and Mrs. Suess... ) However, other family members appeared on our doorstep dressed as Cindy Lou Who, The Grinch, The dog-cum-reindeer, and.. um... a Christmas tree, complete with twigs and ornaments sticking to their ensemble.
To my way of thinking, it was a little..weird... and since I knew that my next door neighbor pretty much watched everything that went on in our house, I hovered near the front door and tried to personally usher each in-law into the house... as quickly as I could!! Although I was definitely on uncharted territory that day :0), it actually turned out to be a lot of fun. When we weren't looking, the Grinch managed to get the presents from under the tree and hide them in various places. There was a lot of laughter as we tried to track down our unopened presents. Finally we had all of them but one and no matter where we looked, we couldn't find it. It eventually turned up in the freezer - first and only time we've ever had a shirt in there...
The next few Christmases seemed pretty ordinary and then a chance remark changed all of that. The Christmas of 1990 was David's first and the roads were treacherous with ice. Somehow my in-laws made it to one central location but traveling was unnerving at times. After we were all back safely in our homes, I was talking to my older sister-in-law on the phone. We were recalling how nerve-wracking the roads were and we both agreed that we didn't care if we ever saw icy roads again. Then I made the innocent remark of, "Next year, let's do Christmas in June."
That was all it took. A few days later, Phil's older sister called and confirmed that we were, indeed, having Christmas in June. (If she could have read my mind, she would have found the great Suthen' response of "Do whut????" registered there.) This sister-in-law is creative, likes to think outside the box and would be the first to tell you all of that. I didn't really know Christmas had an outside-of-the-box... Christmas in June???? Two Christmases in a sixth-month period? I thought she had to be kidding but she wasn't!
Next, we learned that it was not only going to be a June Christmas but also a family reunion with a couple of aunts and uncles coming in from other places. Which meant that we'd have to host at least one aunt and uncle in our house. Which was going to be a little awkward because at that time we didn't have central air nor did we have enough window units to go around. Not to mention enough double beds.
It was at this point that my creative sister-in-law asked me what theme I thought we ought to adopt. Since I had taken a year-long maternity leave and we were broke and I was not a happy bunny, I told her the only theme we could do was poverty.
Wrong thing to say!!!
The next time she called, she was bubbling over with excitement and had it all worked out. She had purchased some cheap dish rags and was going to sew patches on them so that we could use those for napkins. She also had the table decorations all lined up - they would be along the lines of the Beverly Hills Clampett Family... before they discovered oil... And the table runner would have patches on it to match the napkins. Everything would be a hodgepodge, hillbilly Christmas!!
I was not on board with all this and Phil got an ear full - From now on, I won't say anything to your sister that I don't literally mean, word-for-word!!! Who ever heard of poverty as a theme for Christmas?? What will the neighbors think? (Actually, I shouldn't have worried... They loved it! Laughed about it for weeks afterward :( And how are we going to afford all this???
That June as I started dragging my Christmas decorations out of the attic and putting all that stuff out -again - while it was a balmy 80 degrees outside - I was reconciled to but not eager for the big event. Since I didn't know Phil's aunts and uncles well, I tried hard to put my best foot forward, cook my part of the meals perfectly. But somehow the meat was tough, things didn't come together well, and the house, without adequate air conditioning, was like an oven in the bedrooms. (I remember taking Phil out on the carport the first night we had guests and hissing something to the effect that if he didn't do something, we were going to inadvertently cook his aunt and uncle! In retrospect, I can see that wasn't the best way to start a conversation but somehow Phil refrained from responding in kind and we worked out a way to get some cool air into their bedroom.
The first full day that his uncle and aunt stayed with us, I got up early to tend to the baby, hoping to keep him from disturbing our guest's sleep. I knew I hadn't convinced them I was Betty Crocker but I still hoped I could convince them I was the perfect mom... I tiptoed into the nursery, picked the baby up in the semi-darkened room, and lovingly brought his cheek to rest against mine - I always loved to do that. Only this time, his cheek felt rough! I couldn't figure out what it was until I got him into the bathroom and saw, to my horror, that he'd had an intestinal issue and had gotten it all over his bed and his face, where it had hardened to the consistency of concrete. I'm not kidding!! Of all times! How could this be happening to us??
I grabbed my precious child and whisked him into a bath asap (with lots of bubble bath!) where I scrubbed him til his skin turned red. But he still had some on him and he didn't smell like bubble bath! So I dumped out the water and went at it again - this time scrubbing his little face to the point that he started hollering. (And I didn't blame him! But I had to get him clean!) Finally, when his cheeks were rosy (most definitely...), I dumped out the bath water and inhaled deeply to see if he passed the smell test - he didn't! I couldn't believe it!
So I ran to the bedroom where Phil was sleeping, child wrapped in towel, red-faced and mutinous, with me hissing (again!) Phil! Phil! YOu've got to get up! I've already bathed the baby twice but he still stinks! I need some help here! Phil, who does not wake up easily, was probably wanting to re-examine the fine print in our marriage contract but he dutifully hauled out of bed and gave our sweet child his third bath of the morning!
It was at this point that I just thought, "What the heck!" and talked to Phil's aunt Martha openly, sharing my woes about the food, the air conditioning, the baby blow-out, you name it! And it was at this point, that this Godly woman, who had raised several children, lost one, and who had lived with polio most of her adult life, infused her humor and gentle wisdom into my heart and life. She was a godsend!
Then Phil's other aunt, who was not staying at our house, sat down with me that evening and went through a ton of family photos that Phil had somehow inherited. I didn't know if she would want to do that because she had also lost two children in tragic circumstances. But she also taught me, explaining that looking at photos was a good way to deal with the past, that even the bad parts had a good side to them. That evening she identified photos that were a mystery to us and told us a lot of family history. It was good for all of us.
Then, a few months after our tropical Christmas, one of Phil's uncles died unexpectedly. The other uncle already had Parkinson's when he was visiting here and it soon became clear that he would never be able to travel to Arkansas again.
What we would have missed if I had not (begrudgingly) done the Christmas- in-June thing... I guess I've said all that to say this: Christmas is about making memories. The truth is that making memories is not always palatable at times. But over the years the memories, like gold, increase in value until they become priceless, worth it all.