I hate christmas. For many reasons, but the main reason is that I am an atheist. The idea of celebrating something I think is not real, is as pointless as shutting down school for something like the moon landing. Christmas to me always seemed so fake. It just seemed like pure pageantry. The point of christmas is to remember who Jesus was.. You know the Jesus who would push another person out of line to get the last video camera. Or the Jesus that would spend hundreds of dollars to spoil his kids with stuff they don’t need while people have nothing to eat.. I love reading the story of when Jesus took the fish and turned it into a ’72 plasma screen for his man cave.
My family is one of those “Good Christian Families.” Celebrating the birth of the cute little “white” baby jesus with their kin probably means something special. I never understood why this period of time was more important than any other? Why was it so important for our family to be together at christmas, but not really that important any other time of the year? I mean, we don’t ever talk on the phone.. We don’t ever hang out. The idea that we come together and supposedly love each other for only a few days seems as ridiculous as removing your windshield wipers to avoid getting a parking ticket.
However, for some reason up to the time I was 25 I had only missed one christmas with my parents. Despite the fact I had moved out when I was 17, I had always made the trek back to Oregon to spend christmas with my family. Somehow I was able to muster up some fake enthusiasm so that my family can try and have some sort of an enjoyable holiday. I tried my best to play the part of the loving, caring, non-drinking son. I felt more fake then Joan Rivers face. That’s what they wanted right? For us to play our role in the dramatization of our functional and happy family? It never worked. We are just to dysfunctional. We make the Jackson’s look like the Brady Bunch. Most of the dysfunction lies in the fact that everybody in my family thinks that they are not the one with the problem. Everyone thinks they are void of any responsibility in keeping the dysfunction train moving. On top of that, we are terrible communicators. The only way we talk about stuff is by being passive aggressive. For example, one christmas as a gift I got my parents couples counseling. Another Christmas, I got my father a mug that said, “worlds most emotionally manipulative father.” In return, he got me a framed picture of all my siblings college degrees.
I never really understood how one family can be completely fine socializing any time of the year, yet throw in the ingredient of Christmas and it somehow ruins the whole thing. Like it’s mayonnaise in Guacamole or Juan Pablo on the Bachelor.
After years of expensive state mandated therapeutic research, my therapist and unknowing colleague and I have finally pinpointed the mathematical equation that causes our family meltdowns to occur.
Day 1- Civil. Catching each other up on the years happenings, funny quips and hot cocoa at the end of the night.
Day 2- Mild irritation at each other differences magnified by being locked in our small childhood home and cocoa at the end of the night.
Day 3- Funny quips turn into passive jabs, hurt feelings and cocoa goes cold due to constant arguing.
Day 4- passive jabs turn into full out haymakers. Going for the knockout and as a result a cataclysmic meltdown of some sort.. No cocoa gets made.
So many meltdowns to remember, but I am proud to announce that on VH1’s ’10 greatest family meltdowns of the 20th century’ my family took home two places. At #8 was the great meltdown of ’96. My parents found a High Times magazine in my room that caused me to run away and live in my buddies garage only returning on christmas day for my gifts.
And bringing in the second spot (second to Dina Lohan and company) of course the great meltdown of ‘99 where I counted at least 12 doors slammed, 11 Fuck you’s, 10 don’t yells, 9 praying dads, 8 brothers shoved, 7 long drives, 6 remotes thrown, 5 CRYING MOMS, 4 punched walls, 3 get some air, 2 your adopted and a vacation poorly spent.
Whenever I was home, so many questions would run through my mind about christmas. Like, why is this religious holiday so hard on my family? Is this how jesus would act? Who would jesus argue with? Is christmas latin for kill my family? Is Christianity really a secret ploy by the Illuminatti to ruin families?
After years of holiday cheerlessness, at the age of 25 I finally decided celebrating christmas was not something I valued. I finally realized that ‘not’ being around my family during that time was probably best for the families long term success. So, I told my parents I was not ever coming home again for christmas. I think they had seen the writing on the wall, but I was put in a tough predicament. See, two of my siblings had already beaten me to it by committing to celebrating christmas at their partner’s families house. Without me, that would leave my parents alone with my brother for christmas. I was stuck with a tough decision. Do I ditch out all together and let my folks fend for themselves? Or, do I stick it out one more year and hope that by subtracting two of the ingredients that make up the depressing fruit cake that it might be a easier to digest. That’s when I came up with the brilliant idea (at the time) to transition out of going home for christmas and to spend the holidays with my remaining family somewhere else.
My parents were open to the idea. I don’t know how they wouldn’t be? They were almost being held hostage. Two of their four kids (granted their least favorite) already gone and the third threatening not to come home, if they wanted to have any semblance of a christmas they were forced to join me. They finally agreed and we had to decide on a place. Where would a well traveled 25 year old, a well traveled 29 year old and two kind of well 60 year olds going to enjoy? I wanted to go somewhere like Madagascar, or Mauritius, but since my parents are not as ambitious as myself we had to find a place that we all agreed upon. We needed a place that was westernized, affordable, sunny and yet still different then the overwhelming whiteness of the Northwest. Georgia is sunny and affordable, but still in the US. Alabama is kind of westernized and feels like you are in another country, but they don’t speak much english. The place we finally landed on was good ol’ Puerto Rico (air horn blowing.)
It was certainly not my first choice, but since the three people I was traveling with all wanted to put to use their fluent spanish it was either Puerto Rico or Texas. So I chose Puerto Rico. I don’t speak spanish at all, however I can listen to at least 10 seconds of mariachi music before I turn it off, so kind of.. I have traveled in enough spanish speaking countries to know enough to get by. I know things like “Estas Vaacanado” which means, ‘are you vaccinated.
I was a little nervous about traveling with my parents. I had traveled with my parents a lot when I was a kid. I think the last time I had ever been out of the country with them is when they picked me up from drug rehab in Western Samoa when I was 16. It seemed fine then.. They were the only people who could drive, the only people with money and the only people who could make any sort of informed decision. At 16 my basic thinking process was, let’s get some drugs or some ladies or some drugs that will make me hallucinate some ladies… So 9 years later as an adult I didn’t know what to expect.
The trip could not have started any worse. My parents came up to Seattle to fly out with me and all flights out were delayed for two days. As my brother waited for us in sunny Puerto Rico, I was stuck in a small house with my parents in snowy Seattle. If you have never been stuck in a house for 2 days with my parents, I don’t recommend it. It’s kind of like you are suffocating and just as you are running out of air someone puts a plastic bag over your head and punches you in the throat.
We finally made it to Puerto Rico and I found out very quickly my parent’s and I travel very differently. I travel kind of by the seat of my pants. No real plans, take it day to day and never make any concrete plans. My parents are vastly the opposite. Maybe it’s because they are older.. They are not like Betty White old. They are more like a browning banana that you are sort of on the fence about eating sort of old.. I played by their rules and was happy to let them kind of run the show, until the last night of our trip. We were to fly home at 8:00 am out of San Juan, so my parents pre-booked our hotel. They booked a room at the Howard Johnson at the hospital. As we were trying to find it the sexy british ladies voice on our GPS kept saying, “you have arrived,” but there was no hotel in site, just a hospital. Finally, we all walked into the hospital to ask where the Howard Johnson was and quickly found out the Howard Johnson was located inside the actual hospital. They had 10 rooms for people who had to stay overnight with their loved ones and somehow in someway my parents managed to book on of them. I didn’t blame my parents, I blame Howard Johnson. Shame on you HOJO.. You could be HOJO “In the hospital.” Something a little more clear that my mom can easily understand.
So, here we were checking into the hospital. The receptionist for the hotel was the same as the receptionist for the hospital. So naturally, two young guys walking in with two older people she assumed we were checking them in. She asked in english, “what are your symptoms? Who is your insurance provider?” When she finally understood that we had prepaid for a room there and were going to stay for the night, she lowered her head and shook it in disbelief just as any foreigner does when they have an interaction with an american does.
So, we checked in and began to bring out stuff in. To people who didn’t know, it looked like the whities were moving in for a back yard barbecue. We were coming in caring a cooler full of food, because if someone is gonna die, it’s not gonna because the did not have enough coleslaw or sprite. Our room was great. The doors were extremely wide so that, wheel chairs could come and go which was great because my parents overpacked and their suitcases were huge. We tried to lay low, as we knew that everyone staying in the other 9 rooms probably weren’t is as good of spirits as us. The key word above is ‘tried.’ Since we had spent so much time trying to find the “Howard Johnson in the Hospital,” it was late and my parents were tired. They did not want to make the trek out to a restaurant, so we decided to eat at the hospital cafeteria.. Let me tell you, if you haven’t already you got to try it, because there is nothing like eating mashed potatoes and soup while doctors and sick people give you the stink eye. I imagined them looking at us as some sort of scam artists.. Like we go and stay at senior homes because the first month is free. Or we are the University of Phoenix. As one of the doctors came in and saw four sunburned gringo’s eating in the cafeteria he laughed and said out loud in english “must have used Expedia.”
The trip really opened my eyes to a lot of things. First, it is so awesome to spend christmas in a sunny place. I would rather be snorkeling in ’70 water on christmas day then drinking cocoa and watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ because you are snowed in. I also realized that even though dysfunctional they have quirks that really make me laugh. Somehow I actually missed the bickering. I missed the family meltdowns. On the trip I did manage to make my mom cry and have my dad try an intervene with prayer, but it was just not the same without the whole gang. It is kind of like watching watching the daily show with Craig Kilborn, just not right.
I noticed that I focused so much on my families differences then the similarities. In my siblings I would only see the different personalities, the different ideas, the different politics and claim that the only thing we had in common is that we all exited the same vagina. I would always point out to people how much different I was then my family. So quick to try and separate myself from them. I realized that those are the things that made my family unique. We aren’t all the same. That is what really made my family great. Through all the fights, tears and slammed door, there is something to be said about people who know your origins. Something to be said about people who know where you come from, what you have been through and know how to push your buttons. Even though I am an atheist and my the rest of my family are god worshipers, I always knew that my family knew me in a way that no one else could really know me. Even though, I would never go home for Christmas again, Puerto Rico made me appreciate my family in a way I never thought I would. Appreciate them for being weird and dysfunctional. It made me want to be part of the family again.