It’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting colder. My afternoons of sweating profusely, in the Arizona desert, have somewhat dissipated, and taking an evening dip in the swimming pool is no longer a sensible option. Starbucks is now serving up their popular Pumpkin Spice lattes, and department stores everywhere have swapped out their summer merchandise for shared shelf space between Halloween and “the other holiday.” I am a bit surprised I haven’t had any eggnog sightings as of yet. (Pumpkin eggnog does not count.)
However, last week I did see, for the first time this year, a Christmas commercial on TV. It just so happens I purchased my first Christmas present around that time as well. In barely over a month (Nov. 1st) I’ll be listening exclusively to the illustrious sounds of the season, at home and in my car, until midnight of December 25th. No wonder this is the time of year when I prematurely focus the majority of my attention on Christmas! Therefore, it’s time for another Christmas story, from yours truly, although this one is not nearly as cheery as my previous tales. The following story is about a not so holly jolly Christmas.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all was well. The year was 1998, and it had been a splendid holiday season leading up to the “big day.” The gifts were all wrapped, positioned neatly underneath the tree, and the stockings were hung by the chimney with care. The list of Christmas Eve traditions, shared each year with my lovely wife’s extended family, had been completed: The Norwegian feast had been devoured (minus the lutefisk, of course – who wants to eat dried whitefish with a gelatinous texture?). Every song had been sung (some more than once) from the small, treasured hymnals used only on December 24th since probably the early 1900’s. The ice cream cake had been savored (one thin slice per person).
The only thing left to do this Christmas Eve, before trying to get some shut-eye, was to attend a candlelight church service with my side of the family. Almost immediately after cramming into a pew with my loved ones, I realized all was not well. As I was jubilantly singing “Joy to the World,” with the rest of the congregation, the joy inside of me was rapidly diminishing. I was overcome by maddening chills. Not only was Jack Frost nipping at my nose, but the icy villain was mauling my entire body. I’d never experienced anything like that before (nor have I since). As soon as I got home I took some Alka-Seltzer Plus (my usual cure-all) and burrowed into bed without even considering taking off my winter coat.
Christmas morning I awoke, and instantly I knew I was in trouble. I was still frigid, and now adding to my misery was a pounding headache – rhythmically pulsating as if keeping time with “The Little Drummer Boy.” (So much for the Alka-Seltzer Plus.) I was painfully aware what this meant, but I certainly wasn’t going down without a fight. I could not bear the thought of “missing” Christmas, so I brushed my teeth, fixed my hair, and tried to act normal (normal for me, anyway). I knew trying to disguise the fact that I felt much worse than the night before was selfish of me, but admittedly the well-being of others wasn’t my greatest concern at the time. Partaking in the day’s festivities was.
It really didn’t matter what my plan was because the missus was not fooled. She has an uncanny way of immediately detecting when a person is sick simply by looking at their eyes. My wife was not about to let me contaminate the rest of the family especially on such a glorious day. However, she did allow me to wander out into the living room to check out the goodies St. Nick had left for us underneath the Christmas tree. What to my wondering eyes should appear, but a Scooby-Doo cookie jar for the missus, a Super Nintendo for our son, and plenty of sports memorabilia for me. Santa did good. He always does.
Those few short minutes of excitement were almost more than I could handle in my delirious state. I knew I had reached my limit of exhilaration for the day. I also knew it was time for my wife and son to leave. They headed off to my parents’ house, for a fun-filled day, while I settled down for a long winter’s nap. As the rest of the world celebrated our Savior’s birth, or Santa Claus, or both, I laid there in bed thinking of all that I would be deprived of on this blessed day.
There were no visions of sugar plums dancing in my head – just nightmarish thoughts of what I was missing out on a mere mile or so down the road. There’d be no customary Christmas “breakfast” (usually served around noon) for me this year. None of my father’s famous fried eggs. No bacon, no sausage, and no biscuits and gravy. Gone was the anticipation and the delight of watching loved ones opening their gifts that were thoughtfully selected just for them. Lost forever was the cherished time spent with family – typically even more precious on December 25th.
I spent the entire day in bed…and in a desolate daze. At one point I attempted to get out of my lowly condition by turning on the television, but even the holiday classics emanating from the screen could not cure my sadness. “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”? I don’t think so. Clement Clarke Moore’s ending line from his legendary holiday poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, did not ring true for me in 1998. That year was a not so holly jolly Christmas.