Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The True Meaning of Christmas [in July]

Every year, my family does Christmas in July.  It used to be the joke that I love Christmas so much, I do it twice a year.  Also, it's much easier to get people to come to your Christmas party when you're not competing for the very few available nights in December.  But those aren't the reasons we celebrate it.

It's been a long time since I've done a formal invitation for this party - as far as I'm concerned, the joy of a party is in the relaxing, joking, playing and talking with friends.  This year, I decided to use Facebook - I wanted to come up with something clever for the invitation (some years I manage to "redo" a carol or The Night Before Christmas). However, my brain wouldn't cooperate - so instead, I decided to share a Christmas Story. Not the one with Ralphie - nor, curiously enough, the one about the Nativity, nor the Yule. This story is about the origins of Christmas in July - at least the Touchton/Bartlett interpretation of it.


It is that special time of year, when, bored with cookouts and long days of "Mom, I don't know what to do", I honor my mother. She, too, grew weary of the usual summer pastimes (though, as summer weather is about 8 months a year in Georgia, she has far more room to complain than I do). This is her story.


The year was 1992.  My CD player had broken.  My mom, ever the planner, is the type to do Christmas shopping well in advance.  She found the boombox that I wanted - and on an absolutely fantastic sale.  She bought it, with the intention of giving it to me that December.

Mom has a lot of talents.  Many skills.  In the voice of Det. Greenely, "She's wicked smaaahhht."  What she lacks, however, is anything that resembles patience when it comes to gift giving.  It was July.  She knew she wasn't going to last until December - but she didn't have anything for the rest of us (I'm the oldest of 4).

What if she got a little something for everyone?  She talked about it at work, and her boss made a comment about how Gayfers (the swanky department store in town) does "Christmas in July".  Hmmm.

She complained to my father that she was sick and sick and sick and tired of hot dogs and hamburgers.  She wanted to do a turkey dinner.  With all of the fixings.  And so it was, the fridge got stocked with the appropriate foods.

She did not tell him about the rest of her plans.

When you live in the subtropics, your relationship with bugs is one to take seriously.  In more temperate areas, having lots of bugs in your house a sign of, well, bad housekeeping shall we say?  In the south, the roaches come by when you first move in, introduce themselves and offer a covered dish as a housewarming gift.  Bugs are an icky but normal part of southern living.

Especially if you have, like we had, multiple pets.  Of the dogs, cats, rabbits, turkeys (no, they weren't slaughtered for the occasion), ducks, geese...only the dogs were actually allowed in the house.  (I feel there should be a way to work in the part about how we did actually have a pear tree, but no partridges).  Dog baths, flea dips and still swatting those tiny black hopping flecks off your clothes...ahhh.  I can't tell you how much I miss it.  No, really, I CAN'T.

Mom sent us to bed early, and let us know that she would be spraying the carpets for fleas after we went to bed.  Nothing says "stay in your rooms til dawn" like knowing the floor will poison you if you walk on it.  So off we tromped to bed, thinking it was just another Saturday night. Once satisfied that we were all asleep (Dad included), she got up and decorated the house. She even sprayed "condensation" on the windows (that spray snow) to give the luster of "snowiness" to our view of outside.

The next morning, my father went out to make coffee. Upon returning, he asked her why she had turned the air conditioning down - the house was so cold, the windows were fogged.  She sent him back out, and then back out again...(as it was before HIS coffee, he hadn't noticed the decorations).

Finally in on the joke, Dad woke Mena, and asked her to make coffee for him and Mom.

A few words about Mena, as a child.  Sweet, spritely, cheerful.  Always happy to do something for you...even at the ass crack of dawn.  Also, she was in, say, 4th grade at this point - before all humans go grouchy haywire.  So, while slightly annoyed that he managed to get all the way to our bedroom (we shared), but apparently couldn't make his own coffee - and maybe a little annoyed that he didn't ask me - she bounced out of bed.

She noticed the foggy windows.  She went to the kitchen and made coffee.  On the walk back to Mom and Dad's room, she saw it.  The tree, the gifts, the blinking lights.

I just got off the phone with her (wanted to get the details). 

MENA:  And I thought to myself, HOLY SHIT.  Only I was 10, so I didn't say "shit".  I probably thought, OH MY GOSH. 
ME:  So, you were the one who figured it out?  I couldn't remember...
MENA: Hell no.  I was terrified I was going to fuck it all up again.
ME:  Fuck it u- what?

Apparently, not two weeks before, Mena spilled the beans on Mom's anniversary gift.  Dad was NOT pleased. 

She delivered the coffee. 

MOM: So, how's your morning?
MENA: Fine.
MOM:   Did you notice anything out there?  Any fleas?
MENA:  Nope.  Nothing.
MOM:  Um...well, was there anything?  It's okay, you can tell us -
MENA:  THERE'S A CHRISTMAS TREE!!!  AND PRESENTS!!!!! AND SNOW ON THE WINDOWS!!!!

By this time, Jack, Isaac and I had joined Mom, Dad and Mena. 
We opened our presents, congratulated Mom on a fantastic prank (and of course thanking her for the gifts).  I invited Sundance, and we had a lovely ""Christmas".  Story over, right?

Well.  There were all sorts of unexpected side effects.  When Mom went back to work, she told her friends how it went - and people started talking about it.  It finally reached the president of the college (I kid you not) who told her she should have called the newspaper and had someone take pictures.

Oh, and lots and lots and LOTS of people were miffed that they weren't invited.  It was smoothed over with the assurance that no one was actually invited (Sundance was my doing), and by promising to throw another party next July. 

That was 19 years ago. 


The pomp and circumstance around this holiday has waxed and waned and waxed again over the years - though I admit I did not realize how important it had become until last year. I thought going to Georgia for Isaac and Shelly's wedding (the excitement, party, etc.) would be quite enough of an event for the boys - and decided to skip Christmas in July.

This was a mistake.

A certain 12 year old made it crystal clear that the true meaning of summer is found in Christmas in July, and there had better damned well be a tree and a turkey when we returned home.  Not in so many words, of course.  To show the boy in a better (and more accurate) light, he was heartbroken first - then pissed - then heartbroken again. 

Last year, it was Christmas in August.  Not quite in keeping with tradition, but what can ya do?

As for this year...

It's 90 degrees (Baby It's Hot Outside),
There's barely a breeze (Baby It's Hot Outside)...

Oh dear, I should probably stop now...